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ADA Policy Brief Series #12: The Supreme Court's ADA Decisions and Per Se Disabilities

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March 19, 2003


Unlike many of the other topics addressed in the Righting the ADA series, the Supreme Court of the United States has not made any dramatic changes to the state of the law regarding the basic concept of what the Court has called “per sedisabilities.” Yet, the Court’s ADA decisions have changed the legal perspective on the application of this concept. This policy brief examines the meaning and significance of the per se disabilities concept, what the Supreme Court has said about it, and the implications of the Court’s declarations.

The Latin words “per se” mean through itself, by itself, or in itself. A per se disability is a condition that intrinsically, by its very nature, qualifies as a disability. To constitute a disability under the ADA definition, a physical or mental impairment must result in a “substantial limitation of one or more major life activities.” Therefore, a per se disability under the ADA would be a condition that always substantially limits at least one major life activity.

An official website of the National Council on Disability