The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a disability as a someone 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 impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.
Most people read the ADA and think… “Well, that basically covers everyone”…
It’s important to point out the 2008 revisions (ADAAA) were intended to broaden the interpretation of disability, so that more people would be protected from disability-related discrimination. Yet in all ADA-related litigation, the plaintiff must first prove that they have a disability (as defined by the ADA to continue with the claim). In other words, the ADA offers a legal definition of “disability” to provide a framework for interpretation of the law. Yet, outside the courtroom does this really offer a “working” definition for disability?
Competing World Views of Disability
The traditional view of disability (medical, charity, individual models) focuses on the impairment as the cause for inequality. In contrast, inclusive view (social model) focuses on outside factors that make the world inaccessible for someone who has an impairment.
As it relates to employment …maybe blending the two world views would be better? For example, International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) defines disability as: “Disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”
In this definition, disability is no longer seen only as a personal “deficit”, but rather, a shared social responsibility—where personal connections, resources, technologies, etc. can influence social engagement and equality. Advances in thought and technology, now mean that employment and disability are not mutually exclusive and that “disability” in the workplace is worth talking about.