US Supreme Court Narrows Definition of 'Disability'

Employers scored a major victory yesterday as the United States Supreme Court limited the definition of "disability" for employees under the American with Disabilities Act.

Under the ruling, a person qualifying as "disabled" must be found to have an impairment that affects his or her daily life, not simply the tasks required in a specific job. The ruling stemmed from a case involving carpel tunnel syndrome, or "repetitive motion" disease in which a factory worker was trying to establish a case of legal disability requiring her employer to make substantial accommodations and qualifying her for coverage under ADA.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the key issue was "whether the claimant is unable to perform the variety of tasks central to most people's daily lives, not whether the claimant is unable to perform the tasks associated with her specific job."

Justice O'Connor added that "household chores, bathing and brushing one's teeth" were the types of activities that need to be considered when determining one's impairment and trying to qualify as disabled under the law.

The Americans With Disabilities Act was adopted in 1990 and has been the central focus of a debate on who qualifies as disabled. The language of the Act was intentionally broad which resulted in protection of those individuals the law was meant to protect as well as sometimes far-fetched definitions of who was disabled under the law.


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