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Rights of the Disabled - Definition Of "disability"

individual major life activity

The ADA defines the term "disability" as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits at least one major life activity of an individual. Generally, a major life activity is any function that an average individual can perform with little or no trouble, such as caring for oneself, hearing, lifting, seeing, speaking, talking, walking, and working. Examples of "disabilities" are: alcoholism, arthritis, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, hearing impairment, heart disease, high blood pressure, mental retardation, multiple sclerosis, speech impairment, and visual impairment. Additionally, a "disability" may result from a history of, or a perception as having, a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. In Bragdon v. Abbott, (1998), the United States Supreme Court held that infection with the HIV virus constitutes a "disability," even if the symptomatic stage has not yet been reached. Absent unusual circumstances, pregnancy and related medical conditions are not regarded as "disabilities." Also excluded are homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, compulsive gambling, and kleptomania.

The key is that the condition or disease must limit an individual's major life activity. It is therefore possible that two people with the same condition or disease may be treated differently under the ADA. By way of example, arthritis in a particular individual may result in the limitation of mobility, while arthritis in another individual may manifest itself in only occasional stiffness and soreness. The individual in the first example would be "disabled" since the major life activity of walking had been substantially limited. However, the other individual would not be "disabled" inasmuch as there had not been a substantial limitation on a major life activity.

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