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The ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Understanding Discrimination Protections for Individuals With ADHD


Updated June 08, 2010

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Know your job rights. The Amendments Act expands the definition of “disability” therefore broadening the protections it provides.

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The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) which was enacted on September 25, 2008 and became effective on January 1, 2009 made a number of changes to the interpretation of the term “disability.” The purpose of the original ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is to protect individuals from discrimination. The Amendments Act expands the definition of “disability” therefore broadening the protections it provides.

What Does This Mean for Adults with ADHD?

To get a better understanding of this, I turned to Dr. Suzanne Gosden Kitchen, senior consultant for the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a service of the Office of Disability and Employment Policy, U.S. Department of Labor. Dr. Kitchen summarizes the main points.

Dr. Kitchen: More people with ADHD might be protected under ADAAA than before for a number of reasons. First of all, it no longer matters if the person is taking medications for the disability. Medications are called "mitigating measures" which could "take away" the disability, or make the person "not disabled" because they're taking medicine. No longer. Medications or not, a person with a disability is still a person with a disability.

Also, more people might be covered because they can now show what "major life activity" is limited. The major life activity is "normal organ function" as the brain is an organ, and with ADHD, that organ doesn't work "normally" like other people's brains.

In the past, some people with ADHD had trouble explaining what they were limited in. For example, some people would say "I'm scatter-brained" or "I'm not good with time management" or "I can't handle stress" (none of which were major life activities). The ADAAA boils down "major life activities" to the molecular level of life (literally...including "normal cell growth" because the opposite of such is cancer). So, a person with ADHD can measure up because their major life activity affected is "normal organ function."

Question: Did the actual definition of “disability” get changed?

Dr. Kitchen: No, the definition of disability did not get changed in the amendments. Lots of people think it did, but it did not. Not one word. What did change is the meaning of some of the words used in the definition and the way those words are to be applied to individuals.

Question: Has the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) amended its ADA regulation to reflect these changes?

Dr. Kitchen: Not yet. I think it's important to put a big disclaimer up about the ADAAA not being finalized yet because the regulations have not been issued. Yes, the law has passed (in 2008), but the EEOC has not issued a "playbook" yet so we don't really know how to use this law entirely. Hopefully in July. July is the 20th anniversary of the original ADA. Check JAN’s social media outlets for more info as it becomes available!

Question: If readers want to find more information about these amendments where is a good place to look?

Dr. Kitchen: JAN has a nice article on the ADAAA entitled, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The EEOC also has a good article called Questions and Answers on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.


Dr. Suzanne Gosden Kitchen, Job Accommodation Network, U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. Personal Correspondence/Interview, May 17 and 21, 2010.

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