What is Considered Disability?

What Is Considered Disability – Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities without specifying a list of particular conditions.

Under the ADA, a person is considered to have a disability if they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, have a history of such an impairment, or are perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The ADA regulations define a disability as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This may include any physiological condition or disorder, anatomical loss of one or multiple body systems, or aesthetic disfigurement.

Anatomical loss of body systems may include loss of function in reproductive, respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, digestive, immune, circulatory, hemic, skin, endocrine, lymphatic or genitourinary systems.

The regulations also include mental impairments and disorders as disability, such as intellectual disability, emotional or mental illness, organic brain syndrome, and specific learning disabilities.

List of Conditions Considered Disability Under ADA

While the ADA does not specify an exhaustive list of disabilities, it provides criteria to determine whether an impairment substantially limits major life activities. However, the regulations do identify medical conditions that are virtually considered disabilities under the meaning of the law.

The following are the medical conditions and disorders that are considered a disability under ADA provisions:

  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Partial/completely missing limbs
  • Mobility impairments (requiring the use of a wheelchair)
  • Cerebral palsy
  • HIV infection
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Schizophrenia
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)

The ADA specifically excludes certain conditions from being considered disabilities, focusing on impairments that substantially limit major life activities.

According to the ADA regulations, the following health conditions and disorders are not considered Impairments/Disabilities:

  • Bisexuality or homosexuality
  • Kleptomania
  • Compulsive gambling
  • Voyeurism
  • Pyromania
  • Pedophilia
  • Sexual behavior disorders
  • Physical characteristics (such as eye color, hair color, etc.)
  • Common personality traits
  • Transvestism
  • Transsexualism
  • Psychoactive substance abuse disorder resulting from illegal use of drugs
  • Gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments

5 Factors for Determining Disability Under ADA Regulations

What Is Considered Disability

What Is Considered Disability – Factors for Determining Disability Under ADA Regulations

Determining disability under the ADA focuses on whether an impairment substantially limits major life activities rather than the ability to qualify for disability benefits. It involves five questions that help the authorities to determine if a person has a qualifying disability.

Determining disability under the ADA involves assessing whether an impairment substantially limits major life activities rather than a set process involving specific work capacity and benefits qualification questions.

1 – Are you working?

The ADA usually uses earnings guidelines to check if a person’s work activity is substantial gainful activity (SGA).

For instance, if you are working in the current year and earn an average of US$ 1,350 a month, you are not generally considered to have a disability.

On the other hand, if a person is not working or is working but not at par with SGA standards, the ADA will send them an application to the Disability Determination Service (DDS) office, which will review their documented medical condition. The DDS, in turn, will use the following four questions to determine disability.

2 – Is your condition severe?

A person whose physical or mental impairment is significantly limited to doing basic work-related activities (standing, walking, sitting, lifting, or remembering) for a minimum of 12 months is generally considered disabled under ADA regulations. If not, the ADA will find you not having a qualifying disability.

In contrast, if your mental or physical condition does interfere with basic work-related activities, the ADA will ask question no. 3.

3 – Is your condition found on the list of disabling conditions?

The ADA lists medical conditions pertaining to each of the major body systems that are considered severe enough to prevent a person from performing SGA.

If your condition is not on the list, the ADA will decide if it is severe. If it is found to be severe, the ADA will classify your disability. If not, the ADA will ask question no. 4.

4 – Can you do the work you did previously?

This question helps the ADA determine if your medical impairment or impairments keep you from performing your past work. If it does not prevent you from performing your previous work responsibilities, the ADA will determine that you do not qualify for disability.

If the condition prevents you from working as you did previously, then they will move to consider the answer to question no. 5.

5 – Can you do other types of work?

If a person cannot do the work they did previously, then the ADA will check for any other type of work they can do despite their impairment.

The ADA will consider the person’s age, medical conditions, education, past work experience and any transferrable skills that the person may have.

If the person cannot do any other work, then the ADA will determine whether the person is qualified, disabled and eligible for disability benefits.

On the other hand, if the person can do other work, then the ADA will decide that the person does not qualify as disabled and will deny their disability claim.


The ADA uses highly specific standards to determine mental and physical disabilities. These are considered before a person is classified as eligible to receive disability benefits. To learn more about disabilities and the medical and health conditions included in the definition, we recommend you consult your physician or doctor.

See Also

What is Disability Insurance?

Signs That You Will Be Approved for Disability

Free Financial Help for Individuals With Disabilities

Grants for Parents With Disabled Child

Grants for African American Women

What is Short Term Disability?

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