The University of New Mexico
UNM Office of Equal Opportunity

What is a Disability?

Statutory Definition

A person must meet the requirements of at least one of these three criteria to be an individual with a disability:

1. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual;

2. A record of such an impairment; or

3. Being regarded as having such an impairment.

For Example:

1. a person who uses a wheelchair may have an impairment, such as a spinal cord injury, that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking or working.

2. Individuals who have survived cancer are protected under the second part of the definition because there is a record of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

3. A student may be a slow speaker. If a faculty member assumes that because of speaking slowly, the student also thinks slowly, and treats that student differently because of that belief, the student may fall within this definition because of being treated as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity exists.

Differences in disabling conditions are numerous.

  • The disabilty can be visable or invisible;
  • Some disabilities are present from birth;
  • Others are a result of illness or injury;
  • Some difficulties produce formidable challenges in everyday life;
  • Others cause relatively minor inconveniences.

Academic Setting

In the academic context, to be qualified means that a person with a disability must meet all of the eligibility criteria to participate in the University's programs and services and perform at the standards required to stay in those programs. For instance, if a person with a disability does not have the GPA or SAT scores to gain admittance and is not accepted, the University is not guilty of discrimination on the basis of disability because that person is not qualified. However, the University must provide persons with disabilities access to programs to enable them to meet the standards required to stay in a program if it will not cause an undue hardship as defined on a case-by-case basis.

Employment Setting

In employment context, a qualified individual with a disability is a person with a disability who satisfies the skill, experience, and education requirements of the job he or she applies for or holds, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of that job.

Protection under ADA

Qualified individuals with disabilities are protected under University policy, and state and federal laws and regulations.

Persons who are associated with disabilities are also protected under the ADA. For instance, the University cannot refuse to accept a student who meets the eligibility requirements for admission just because the student's spouse or sibling is diagnosed with AIDS.

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