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This Article analyzes the fundamental change to federal
civil rights law that Congress accomplished through the
ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (the ADAAA). Congress
enacted the ADAAA in response to a series of United States
Supreme Court opinions that had narrowly interpreted the
definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities
Act of 1990. Although many commentators have
recognized the ADAAA's intent to restore the class of
individuals with disabilities to the breadth that Congress
originally intended, this Article argues that the ADAAA
accomplished something more significant: it extricated
disability from the broader concept of impairment. As a
result, the ADAAA has placed "impairment" alongside
race, religion, national origin, sex, age, and disability as a
legally protected status under federal antidiscrimination
law. By implicitly elevating impairment to protected class
status, the ADAAA offers a profound yet still unrealized
opportunity for reframing the disability rights debate
around a new form of universality that could
meaningfully advance the disability rights movement.
The ADAAA's new form of universality has the potential
to provide a cohesive alternative to the two existing
theories that often divide the disability rights community
regarding the most effective form of civil rights legislation.
Advocates on one side contend that disability should be
recognized as a subordinated minority status, while
advocates on the other side argue that disability is better
understood as a universal continuum. This Article argues
that understanding the ADAAA as having elevated
impairment to protected class status alongside disability-
rather than as having merely expanded the definition of
disability-could reveal the statute as having combined
the most compelling elements of both the minority status
viewpoint and the continuum approach.