New “Disabled” Definition: What CIO’s Need to Know

Tiemann ADA keyboardADA compliance changed when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently issued its final regulations defining when an employee qualifies as “disabled”. Many believe this paves the way for a marked increase in claims and lawsuits against employers according to a an article in the June 2011 issue of Compliance Week.

ADA Compliance Background

Under the original ADA compliance model questions of disability have often been administered in a very narrow interpretation of the law and regularly require the employee to prove their disability. In 2009, Congress passed amendments to the ADA allowing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) to go into effect. Among other changes, ADAAA removes nearly all burden from the employee to show they are disabled by “implement(ing) Congress’s intent to set forth predictable, consistent, and workable standards” that include definitions and lists of impairments. These amendments and the definitions and conditions just went into effect on May 24th.

Disability Defined

IN order to now meet ADA compliance under ADAAA, disability includes:

  • An actual physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities
  • A past history of such an impairment; or
  • Being “regarded as” having a disability.

CIO’s Job on ADA Compliance

What does this mean for IT? First, it represents an opportunity for CIO’s to continue leading on ADA compliance related matters by bringing the new regulation forward to college leadership. It is an opportunity for CIO’s to take the lead and work with human resources on implementing needed changes to policies and procedures. CIO’s should also prepare for additional accommodation requests for employees and students including requests not previously supported because the conditions for disabled are now much broader.

CIO’s should also work with HR to understand any additional cautions to avoid inadvertently crossing the line for “regarded as”.  Under this thinking once an employer treats and employee as if they had a disability, even when it hasn’t been proven under the old standard, it demonstrates they regard the employee as disabled which is now included under the amendments.

So, when IT provides a special computer or peripheral to an employee who complains of an ailment just because it is easier than dealing with the complaints, you may be establishing them as disabled by regarding them as such. When you provide technology accommodations beyond what is the standard for failing vision, bad backs, soar shoulders and so on you may again be expanding the disabled rolls and what constitutes a “substantial” limitation.

Clearly this can be complicated and over-thought. So my best advice is to view this as a positive development in ADA compliance as it will clear the way for IT helping more students be successful and more employees to remain productive. The broader definitions mean IT can use dedicated funding in support of more users’ needs as well as tapping into outside resources for additional adaptive technology.

Finally, CIO’s should at least read the ADAAA summaries and collaborate with their HR peers to get this on the agenda for discussion before you have a test case and the return of students.

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2 Responses to New “Disabled” Definition: What CIO’s Need to Know

  1. Asad says:

    I think this will benefit number of people working around with some disability. However this may cause certain emplyment problems in the future. As the HR mangers may get reluctant in offering jobs to such people. Thanks for a nice informative post.

  2. Asad I am sure you are right. All of the analysis I have read on this projects increases in complaints and lawsuits. Everyone should put some thought into these changes and how to adjust policies and established practices.

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