Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College:
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College:
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Definitions of ADA Terms

The following are definitions of the legal terms used in the ADA which are underlined in the above text. 

Covered entity– Currently, Title I of the ADA applies to all private employers with at least 15 employees and all public employers except the U.S. government. The ADA also covers employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. None of these organizations are allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities. Religious organizations also are covered, although they may give preference in employment to members of their religion. The only employers not covered are Indian tribes, the U.S. government, and tax exempt private membership clubs. 

Disability– The ADA defines disability broadly covering people in three categories: 

  • people who currently have a disability,
  • people who have a history of disability, and 
  • people who are perceived as disabled by others whether or not they actually have a disability. 

A disability is an impairment, either mental or physical, that “limits one or more major life activities.” Major life activities include the ability to care for yourself, learn, work, walk, see, hear, speak, breathe, or maintain social relationships, among others. In the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the ADA and People with Psychiatric Disabilities, examples of the definition of psychiatric disabilities, also known as mental illnesses, are described. Link directly to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to get a full copy of the text. Information is also provided about conditions that are not covered by the ADA. 

Some definitions of terms: 

Essential functions of a job – The minimum required duties and abilities necessary to perform the tasks of the job. Essential functions of a job often can be determined by writing accurate job descriptions to determine which tasks are a major part of the job and which are not. Factors to consider include the percentage of time spent performing those duties, the qualifications required to do these tasks, and whether the job exists in order to have these duties performed. 

Qualified individual with a disability– Any individual with a disability who has the ability, skills, and education to perform the essential functions of a job either with or without reasonable accommodations. 

Physical or mental limitations – Difficulties in functioning or performing tasks that are due to the disability or medical condition. For example, someone with schizophrenia may hear voices (a symptom of the medical condition), which may interfere with concentrating on a task for long periods of time. 

Reasonable accommodations– Changes or adjustments in a work or school site, program, or job that makes it possible for an otherwise qualified employee or student with a disability to perform the duties or tasks required. 

Undue hardship for an employer– Excessive financial burden or interference with the nature or operation of the business. Factors considered in determining undue hardship include the overall financial resources of the employing organization, the nature and cost of the accommodation, and the impact of providing the accommodation on the particular site or operation of the business. 


Note: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations. 

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