Published September, 2009

The ADA Amendments Act: An Overview of Recent Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act, Emily A. Benfer, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (2009)

This is a concise, useful discussion of the changes to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) that were put into effect through the passage of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The ADAAA, which became effective as of January 1, 2009, reflects Congress' intent to return the ADA to its original purpose of broad protection from discrimination for people with disabilities, and to refocus courts' attention in its interpretation of the ADA away from a dissection of the severity of each plaintiff's individual disability to the severity of the discrimination perpetrated against that individual. The ADAAA was necessary to undo the increasingly limited interpretation of the term "disability" the U.S. Supreme Court had applied in a series of critical cases, and the consequently extreme narrowing of the class of individuals covered by the ADA's antidiscrimination protections, contrary to what Congress had in mind when it passed the original ADA in 1990.

The overview examines issues such as changes in how the terms "substantially limits" and "major life activities" are now to be interpreted in assessing whether an individual has a covered disability that substantially limits a major life activity; how courts are no longer permitted to factor in measures that a person takes to mitigate the impact of their disability (such as using a cane to walk, or taking medications to control their diabetes) to decide that that person is not really substantially limited and thus not covered under the ADA; and the significant change that now ensures that all persons who are "regarded as" and treated as having a disability due to the perceptions of others will receive the ADA's protections.