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ADA-Defined Disability

Disability as used in the ADA is much more expansive than the accepted medical usage. In the congressional findings supporting the ADA, it was estimated that approximately 43 million persons were disabled by the standards of the ADA. While traditional definitions of disability would hardly include one-fifth of the population, the ADA defines disability, with respect to an individual, as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

The ADA covers only long-term disabilities, not those from acute illnesses or injuries that affect the worker for less than six months. The ADA specifically exempts illegal drug use, drunkenness, sexual preference (homosexuality, bisexuality, and transvestism), and pregnancy from the definition of disability. Beyond these specific exemptions, it provides that the employee's physical or mental condition cannot be considered except as directly relevant to job performance. This follows the existing law that limits educational testing to qualifications that are directly related to job performance. Employers may not use a calculus test to screen applicants for janitorial jobs, and they may not use blood sugar testing to screen potential secretaries.


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