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What is a disability under the ADA?

Disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, or working. "Substantially limited” generally means that a person is unable to perform a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform. Mitigating or corrective measures such as medication, or corrective lenses may be considered when determining whether a person is substantially limited. 

The ADA also prohibits discrimination against individuals who have a record or history of being substantially impaired and individuals who are regarded as having such impairments.

College staff decide whether a student meets the definition of disability under the ADA. Persons are not entitled to protection of the ADA simply because they have been diagnosed with a disability. The disability must substantially limit their ability to perform major life activities. Thus, this disability determination process is on a case-by-case basis. A college cannot set-up predetermined categories of what types of disabilities will be accommodated and what types will not. 

To help you understand the potential scope of covered disabilities a non-exhaustive list of types of conditions that may be covered by the ADA includes:

• physical, sight, speech or hearing impairments, 
• epilepsy, 
• muscular dystrophy, 
• multiple sclerosis, 
• cancer, heart diseases,
• diabetes,
• chronic illnesses, 
• HIV or AIDS,
• psychiatric disabilities,
• specific learning disabilities, and
• recovered drug or alcohol addiction.

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