DOJ to expand federal definition of disabled

The Justice Department is moving to extend protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to more people suffering from physical or mental ailments.

Draft regulations unveiled Thursday are meant to fulfill the agency’s mandate under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. Congress approved the measure in response to a series of court decisions that took a narrow view of what it means to be disabled, limiting the reach of the landmark 1990 statute.


“The narrow interpretation of the ADA’s definition of disability resulted in the denial of the law’s protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes and epilepsy who had been the subject of adverse actions due to their disabilities,” said acting assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. 

The 2008 update requires that the definition of disability “be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.”

The proposed regulations are meant to make it easier for people to establish that they have a disability.

Samuels said the draft rule would focus on “whether a covered entity has complied with its obligations and whether discrimination occurred, and not on whether the person has a disability.”

The issuance of the regulations starts the clock on a 60-day public comment period that closes on March 1.