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Disability-Related Terms and Definitions


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

It states that all state agencies must comply with Title I of the ADA and as such prohibits employment discrimination against "qualified individuals with disabilities." It is a national mandate to provide access to all aspects of American life to people with disabilities.

ADA Employment Provisions Requirments

Employment provisions of the ADA require good faith efforts by an employer and an employee who is a qualified individual with a disability to identify reasonable accommodations that permit the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.

ADA Coverage
  • Employment
  • Access to facilities, programs, services, activities
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation
  • Other miscellaneous provisions
Individual with a Disability

An individual who meets the skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of a position held or desired, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of a job. The ADA definition of an individual with a disability is very specific. A person with a "disability" is an individual who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities
  • has a record of such an impairment; or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.
Qualified Disabled Individual

A disabled individual whose experience, education, and/or training enable the person, with reasonable accommodation, to perform the essential functions of the job.

Major Life Activities

To be a disability covered by the ADA, an impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. These are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty. Examples are: walking, seeing, speaking, hearing, breathing, learning, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, working.

Substantially Limits An impairment is only a “disability” under the ADA if it substantially limits one or more major life activities. An individual must be unable to perform, or be significantly limited in the ability to perform, an activity compared to an average person in the general population. The regulations provide three factors to consider in determining whether a person’s impairment substantially limits a major life activity:
  • its nature and severity;
  • how long it will last or is expected to last;
  • its permanent or long term impact, or expected impact.
Reasonable Accommodation

Any modification or adjustment to a job, an employment practice, or the work environment that makes it possible for an individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. This obligation to provide a reasonable accommodation applies to all aspects of employment. This duty is ongoing and may arise any time that a person's disability or job changes.

An employer must make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee with a disability unless it can show that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship on the operation of its business. An employer does not have to make an accommodation for an individual who is not otherwise qualified for a position.

Some examples of reasonable accommodation include:

  • making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to, and usable by, an individual with a disability
  • job restructuring
  • modifying work schedules
  • reassignment to a vacant position
  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
  • adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
  • providing qualified readers or interpreters

An employer is not required to lower quality or quantity standards to make an accommodation. Nor is an employer obligated to provide “personal” use items, such as glasses or hearing aids, as accommodations.

A qualified individual with a disability has the right to refuse an accommodation. However, if the individual cannot perform the essential functions of the job without the accommodation, s/he may not be qualified for the job.

Undue Hardship

It is an accommodation which is “excessively costly, extensive, substantial, or disruptive, or that which would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business.”

In determining undue hardship, factors to be considered include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, the financial resources, the nature and structure of the employer’s operation, as well as the impact of the accommodation on the specific facility providing the accommodation.

An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it will impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business. If the cost of an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, the individual with a disability will be given the option of providing the accommodation or paying that portion of the cost which would constitute an undue hardship.


For more information on Disability Resources visit: Job Accommodation Network

by Clark, Leslie A. last modified Jun 21, 2013 09:37 AM