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Title III Technical Assistance Manual (with 1994 supplement)


Regulatory references: 28 CFR 36.104.

III−2.1000 General. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against any "individual with a disability. " People commonly refer to disabilities or disabling conditions in a broad sense. For example, poverty or lack of education may impose real limitations on an individual's opportunities. Likewise, being only five feet in height may prove to be an insurmountable barrier to an individual whose ambition is to play professional basketball. Although one might loosely characterize these conditions as "disabilities" in relation to the aspirations of the particular individual, the disabilities reached by title III are limited to those that meet the ADA's legal definition -- those that place substantial limitations on an individual's major life activities.

Title III protects three categories of individuals with disabilities:

1) Individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;

2) Individuals who have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited one or more of the individual's major life activities; and

3) Individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment, whether they have the impairment or not.

III−2.2000 Physical or mental impairments. The first category of persons covered by the definition of an individual with a disability is restricted to those with "physical or mental impairments. " Physical impairments include--

1) Physiological disorders or conditions;

2) Cosmetic disfigurement; or

3) Anatomical loss

affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs (which would include speech organs that are not respiratory such as vocal cords, soft palate, tongue, etc.); respiratory, including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genitourinary; hemic and lymphatic; skin; and endocrine.

Specific examples of physical impairments include orthopedic, visual, speech, and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV disease (symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

Mental impairments include mental or psychological disorders, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

Simple physical characteristics such as the color of one's eyes, hair, or skin; baldness; left-handedness; or age do not constitute physical impairments. Similarly, disadvantages attributable to environmental, cultural, or economic factors are not the type of impairments covered by title III. Moreover, the definition does not include common personality traits such as poor judgment or a quick temper, where these are not symptoms of a mental or psychological disorder.

Does title III prohibit discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation? No. The phrase "physical or mental impairment" does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.

III−2.3000 Drug addiction as an impairment. Drug addiction is an impairment under the ADA. A public accommodation generally, however, may base a decision to withhold services or benefits in most cases on the fact that an addict is engaged in the current and illegal use of drugs.

What is "illegal use of drugs"? Illegal use of drugs means the use of one or more drugs, the possession or distribution of which is unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act. It does not include use of controlled substances pursuant to a valid prescription or other uses that are authorized by the Controlled Substances Act or other Federal law. Alcohol is not a "controlled substance," but alcoholism is a disability.

What is "current use"? "Current use" is the illegal use of controlled substances that occurred recently enough to justify a reasonable belief that a person's drug use is current or that continuing use is a real and ongoing problem. Therefore, a private entity should review carefully all the facts surrounding its belief that an individual is currently taking illegal drugs to ensure that its belief is a reasonable one.

Does title III protect drug addicts who no longer take controlled substances? Yes. Title III prohibits discrimination against drug addicts based solely on the fact that they previously illegally used controlled substances. Protected individuals include persons who have successfully completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program or have otherwise been rehabilitated successfully and who are not engaging in current illegal use of drugs. Additionally, discrimination is prohibited against an individual who is currently participating in a supervised rehabilitation program and is not engaging in current illegal use of drugs. Finally, a person who is erroneously regarded as engaging in current illegal use of drugs is protected.

Is drug testing permitted under the ADA? Yes. Public accommodations may utilize reasonable policies or procedures, including but not limited to drug testing, designed to ensure that an individual who formerly engaged in the illegal use of drugs is not now engaging in current illegal use of drugs.

III−2.4000 Substantial limitation of a major life activity. To constitute a "disability," a condition must substantially limit a major life activity. Major life activities include such activities as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

When does an impairment "substantially limit" a major life activity? There is no absolute standard for determining when an impairment is a substantial limitation. Some impairments obviously or by their nature substantially limit the ability of an individual to engage in a major life activity.

ILLUSTRATION 1: A person who is deaf is substantially limited in the major life activity of hearing. A person with a minor hearing impairment, on the other hand, may not be substantially limited.

ILLUSTRATION 2: A person with traumatic brain injury may be substantially limited in the major life activities of caring for one's self, learning, and working because of memory deficit, confusion, contextual difficulties, and inability to reason appropriately.

An impairment substantially interferes with the accomplishment of a major life activity when the individual's important life activities are restricted as to the conditions, manner, or duration under which they can be performed in comparison to most people.

ILLUSTRATION 1: A person with a minor vision impairment, such as 20/40 vision, does not have a substantial impairment of the major life activity of seeing.

ILLUSTRATION 2: A person who can walk for 10 miles continuously is not substantially limited in walking merely because, on the eleventh mile, he or she begins to experience pain, because most people would not be able to walk eleven miles without experiencing some discomfort.

Are "temporary" mental or physical impairments covered by title III? Yes, if the impairment substantially limits a major life activity. The issue of whether a temporary impairment is significant enough to be a disability must be resolved on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration both the duration (or expected duration) of the impairment and the extent to which it actually limits a major life activity of the affected individual.

ILLUSTRATION: During a house fire, M received burns affecting his hands and arms. While it is expected that, with treatment, M will eventually recover full use of his hands, in the meantime he is substantially limited in performing basic tasks required to care for himself such as eating and dressing. Because M's burns are expected to substantially limit a major life activity (caring for one's self) for a significant period of time, M would be considered to have a disability covered by title III.

If a person's impairment is greatly lessened or eliminated through the use of aids or devices, would the person still be considered an individual with a disability? Whether a person has a disability is determined without regard to the availability of mitigating measures, such as reasonable modifications, auxiliary aids and services, services or devices of a personal nature, or medication. For example, a person with severe hearing loss is substantially limited in the major life activity of hearing, even though the loss may be improved through the use of a hearing aid. Likewise, persons with impairments, such as epilepsy or diabetes, that, if untreated, would substantially limit a major life activity, are still individuals with disabilities under the ADA, even if the debilitating consequences of the impairment are controlled by medication.

III−2.5000 Record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity. The ADA protects not only those individuals with disabilities who actually have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, but also those with a record of such an impairment.

This protected group includes --

1) A person who has a history of an impairment that substantially limited a major life activity but who has recovered from the impairment. Examples of individuals who have a history of an impairment are persons who have histories of mental or emotional illness, drug addiction, alcoholism, heart disease, or cancer.

2) Persons who have been misclassified as having an impairment. Examples include persons who have been erroneously diagnosed as mentally retarded or mentally ill.

III−2.6000 "Regarded as. " The ADA also protects certain persons who are regarded by a public entity as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, whether or not that person actually has an impairment. Three typical situations are covered by this category:

1) An individual who has a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities, but who is treated as if the impairment does substantially limit a major life activity;

ILLUSTRATION: A,an individual with mild diabetes controlled by medication, is barred by the staff of a private summer camp from participation in certain sports because of her diabetes. Even though A does not actually have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, she is protected under the ADA because she is treated as though she does.

2) An individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others towards the impairment;

ILLUSTRATION: B, a three-year old child born with a prominent facial disfigurement, has been refused admittance to a private day care program on the grounds that her presence in the program might upset the other children. B is an individual with a physical impairment that substantially limits her major life activities only as the result of the attitudes of others toward her impairment.

3) An individual who has no impairments but who is treated by a public accommodation as having an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

ILLUSTRATION: C is excluded from a private elementary school because the principal believes rumors that C is infected with the HIV virus. Even though these rumors are untrue, C is protected under the ADA, because he is being subjected to discrimination by the school based on the belief that he has an impairment that substantially limits major life activities (i.e. , the belief that he is infected with HIV).

III−2.7000 Exclusions. The following conditions are specifically excluded from the definition of "disability": transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, and psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.


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