The Disability.Gov Blog, which is published by the EEOC contains a new post by Chai Feldblum, one of the Commissioners of the EEOC, entitled Thoughts for a New Era: Expanding Work Opportunities for People with Mental Disabilities . The post discusses the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) enacted in 2008 and effective beginning January 1, 2009 as to mental disabilties and other disabilities. The final regulations are now being reviewed and are due out in the near future. The article is important since it is written by one of the Commissioners who are considering the final rules. In the article the author discusses some of the changes made by the law:
- First, the law provides that whether a person has a disability (that is, whether the person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity) must be determined without considering the ameliorative effects of medications, therapies and other interventions that may lessen the effect of the limitations the person experiences. So, for example, in deciding whether a person with anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, we must consider what impact the impairment has on the person in the event that medications, therapies and other interventions are not being used.
- Second, the law clarifies that a number of activities particularly relevant to people with mental disabilities – including thinking, concentrating, communicating, reading, learning, sleeping and brain function – are major life activities for purposes of the ADA. In particular, having major bodily functions, such as brain function, included as a major life activity will make it easier for people with mental impairments to qualify for coverage. In addition, since some courts have failed to find that concentrating and communicating were major life activities, it is important that the ADAAA clarifies that they are.
- Third, the ADAAA provides that an episodic impairment is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active. The episodic nature of many psychiatric disabilities had been a significant barrier to coverage pre-ADAAA.
- Fourth, the ADAAA expands the reach of the “regarded as” prong of the definition of disability to cover anyone who was subjected to an action prohibited by the ADA because of an actual or perceived impairment, whether or not it limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.