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What counts as a disability under the ADA and FEHA

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2023 | Employment Law |

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 promotes equal opportunities and rights for individuals with disabilities. The Fair Employment and Housing Act further expands the ADA’s worker protections in California.

Despite the positive intentions of both pieces of legislation, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that compared to workers without disabilities, twice as many disabled people did not have jobs in 2022. Knowing whether a condition qualifies for workplace accommodations can be an important part of finding and keeping a job in California.

Qualifying disabilities

The ADA defines a disability as a mental or physical impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities. These activities encompass daily tasks such as walking, speaking, hearing and thinking. In its definition of disability, California’s FEHA also includes serious medical conditions, including diabetes, cancer and AIDS.

Physical and mental impairments

Physical impairments are those affecting the body’s structure or function. Examples include mobility limitations, chronic pain and visual or auditory dysfunctions.

Mental impairments include a variety of conditions that disrupt the mental or emotional well-being of 14% of adult California residents. These disabilities include conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive disability
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Attention deficit disorder

A mental disability can also be a condition that a person has a history of but does not currently experience.

Mitigating measures

The ADA considers disabilities without taking into account mitigating measures. This consideration means that even if people improve their quality of life with medications, devices or treatments, their conditions can still count as legal disabilities.

Accommodations for qualifying disabilities

If an employee’s condition meets the criteria of a disability under the ADA or the FEHA, then an employer must provide reasonable accommodations. The employer’s responsibility to do so goes into effect as soon as an employee discloses a disability or the employer becomes aware of it.