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Student health 101

Definition of Disability

What is a Disability?

A disability is a legal term defined by federal statute and case law. It also has cultural and medical meanings. In order to determine eligibility for services and accommodations the legal construction and meaning of the law has been used to the extent possible. Because of the lack of clarity in the case law and other legal findings as to who exactly qualifies as disabled, the standard for determining disability and eligibility has grown increasingly complex and confusing. Our intent is not to define disability, rather it is to develop guidelines and criteria for interpreting the existing definition as described in legislation and case law.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) definition of "Disability"


(a) DEFINITION OF DISABILITY.—Section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102) is amended to read as follows:

“As used in this Act:

“(1) DISABILITY.—The term ‘disability’ means, with respect to an individual—

“(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;

“(B) a record of such an impairment; or

“(C) being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)).


“(A) IN GENERAL.—For purposes of paragraph (1), major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

“(B) MAJOR BODILY FUNCTIONS.—For purposes of paragraph (1), a major life activity also includes the operation of a major bodily function, including but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

“(3) REGARDED AS HAVING SUCH AN IMPAIRMENT.—For purposes of paragraph (1)(C):

“(A) An individual meets the requirement of 'being regarded as having such an impairment' if the individual establishes that he or she has been subjected to an action prohibited under this Act because of an actual or perceived physical or mental impairment whether or not the impairment limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.

“(B) Paragraph (1)(C) shall not apply to impairments that are transitory and minor. A transitory impairment is an impairment with an actual or expected duration of 6 months or less.

“(4) RULES OF CONSTRUCTION REGARDING THE DEFINITION OF DISABILITY.—The definition of ‘disability’ in paragraph (1) shall be construed in accordance with the following:

“(A) The definition of disability in this Act shall be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under this Act, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this Act.

“(B) The term ‘substantially limits’ shall be interpreted consistently with the findings and purposes of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

“(C) An impairment that substantially limits one major life activity need not limit other major life activities in order to be considered a disability.

“(D) An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.

“(E)(i) The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures such as—

“(I) medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (which do not include ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aids and cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, or oxygen therapy equipment and supplies;

“(II) use of assistive technology;

“(III) reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services; or

“(IV) learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications.

“(ii) The ameliorative effects of the mitigating measures of ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses shall be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity.

“(iii) As used in this subparagraph—

“(I) the term ‘ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses’ means lenses that are intended to fully correct visual acuity or eliminate refractive error; and

“(II) the term ‘low-vision devices’ means devices that magnify, enhance, or otherwise augment a visual image.”.


Additional Information

"Disability Under the Fair Employment & Housing Act"
What you should know about the law.


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Location: Bldg 124 (Student Services, across from Spanos Stadium)
Phone: 805-756-1395
Fax: 805-756-5451
Email: drc@calpoly.edu

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