On September 25, 2008, President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (S. 3406, the “ADAAA” or “Act”) into law. The Act, which garnered bipartisan support, becomes effective January 1, 2009, and significantly widens the number of potential litigants covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The Act reflects a compromise between disability rights, civil rights and employer groups, who cooperated with legislators to draft the language of the Act and to strike a balance between the interests of employers and employees.

While the ADAAA preserves the traditional language defining “disability” found in the ADA – that a covered disability is one which “substantially limits one or more major life activities” – it expressly has changed the meaning of these words to expand the number of employees who will be covered. In doing so, the ADAAA removes requirements imposed by Supreme Court decisions that have reduced protections for certain people with disabilities, including people with diabetes, depression, epilepsy, heart disease, mental disabilities and cancer, who were originally intended to be covered by the ADA.