Learn the Lingo

Submitted by Maggie Sims on Tue, 04/23/2019

Looking for employment? Already employed? If you have a disability you need to have a good basic knowledge of the employment provisions of the ADA. The same goes for an employer who is looking to hire. With over 56 million individuals with disabilities in the U.S., it’s likely that many of these folks are in the workforce!

To understand your ADA rights and responsibilities, it is important to know the lingo. Let’s take a closer look at some of these KEY terms that the ADA uses.

ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) - In 1990, the ADA made it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability. As time passed, there was legal disagreement over what disability meant. Court decisions narrowed the definition of disability. This made it difficult for employees to prove they had a disability. To address this problem, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) in 2008. The ADAAA says that disability must be broadly defined. Focusing on if discrimination occurred instead of whether a person meets the definition.

Covered Employer – The ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. This includes private employers and state and local government employers. Employment agencies, labor organizations, and labor-management committees are also covered under the law.

Direct Threat - A significant risk of harm to the health or safety of the individual or of others. This risk cannot be eliminated or reduced by an accommodation.

Disability - The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, and someone who others regard as having a disability. It is also unlawful to discriminate based on a person’s association with a person with a disability. Note that the ADA definition of disability is not the same as how other laws may define it. For example, Social Security related benefits have a different definition.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) - The federal agency that enforces the ADA’s employment regulations.

Essential Function - The basic job duties a person is hired to perform. Reallocating essential functions of a job as a reasonable accommodation is not required.

Interactive Process – Communication between an employer and an employee to determine an effective accommodation.

Job Description - The ADA does not require that employers develop job descriptions. But if employers do use job descriptions, they should reflect the actual functions of a job. A job description should focus on the results or outcome of a job function, and not on the way it is performed.

Mitigating Measures - Medications, tools, or other therapies can improve symptoms of a disability. But the employee still has a disability according to the ADA. For example, employees with diabetes who use insulin to keep their blood sugar stable are still considered to have a disability even though their insulin reduces the effects of their diabetes.

Qualified Individual with a Disability - A person with a disability who meets the skill, experience, education, or other requirements of a position. The person must be able to carry out the essential functions of the job - with or without accommodation.

Reasonable Accommodation - Any change to a job or the work environment that enables an applicant or employee with a disability to take part in the workplace.

Substantially Limits – There is not a specific definition of this term. Instead, there are nine “rules of construction“ that help determine if a person is substantially limited. These rules include mitigating measures, conditions that are episodic or in remission, and temporary impairments.

Undue Hardship - An action that requires significant difficulty or expense. This determination is made on a case-by-case basis. The nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size and resources of the employer are factors used to determine undue hardship.

If you have more questions, there are resources available to help. Check out:


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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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