On July 26, 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) overwhelmingly passed both Houses of Congress, the ADA's definition of "disability" was:

1)     An impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,

2)     A record of such an impairment, or

3)     Being regarded as having such an impairment.

Contrary to Congress’ intent to be inclusive, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the ADA definition of “disability” for over 18 years. The Supreme Court’s narrow scope of the definition of “disability” made it difficult for people with cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions to claim protection from discrimination based upon disability under the ADA.

Since 1990, the Supreme Court considered mitigating measures - medications, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices - when determining whether an individual has a disability under the ADA. If conditions could be minimized or corrected through mitigating measures, the Supreme Court rejected the person’s claim that they had a disability.


On September 25, 2008, after it was unanimously passed by Congress, President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). The ADAAA specified that mitigating measures other than "ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses" should no longer be considered when assessing whether an individual has a disability. Therefore, the ADAAA protected people whose conditions can sometimes be controlled by medication, hearing aids and prosthetics.

The ADAAA expanded the definition of "major life activities" by including two lists including but not limited to:

  • Activities that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has acknowledged (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); and
  • Major bodily functions (immune system, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions).

The ADAAA also protects people with impairments that can go into remission if the impairment would substantially limit a major life activity when active.


The provisions of ADAAA  became enforceable on January 1, 2009. 

Over the past four decades, Disability Educator and Sign Language Instructor Cindy Powell has advised businesses, employers, government agencies and nonprofits about best practices with people with disabilities.


Cindy provides customized training on the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), tax incentives and other helpful topics, such as disability etiquette and service animals. Ms. Powell also provides customized sign language training.


Cindy has served on local, state and national disability organization Boards of Directors. Ms. Powell was recipient of International Association of Workforce Professionals' 2006 Services to Specialized Populations award. Cindy’s disability articles appear in print and online.







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