Meaningful Lives and Major Life Activities

46 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2008

See all articles by Ann Hubbard

Ann Hubbard

University of Cincinnati - College of Law


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was expected to grant much needed freedom for tens of millions of Americans with physical or mental disabilities, but to the surprise and dismay of many of the Act's supporters, courts routinely refuse to hear the claims of people with physical impairments or diseases such as cancer or epilepsy, in effect saying that these individuals are not "disabled enough." This emphasis on difference is troubling to plaintiffs who seek treatment as equals, and the necessary change in interpretation can be accomplished through the part of the ADA's definition that invites consideration of sameness or equality: the identification of "major life activities."

A wide-ranging, thoroughgoing inquiry into what qualifies as a major life activity is needed, and a philosopher's approach to this investigation is one that the ADA can accommodate. This article first sketches the current legal landscape and proposes a standard for determining whether a life activity is major. Then several philosophical accounts of the "good human life" are explored. Next are brief illustrations from other fields to demonstrate what they could contribute to the inquiry. Last, the article returns briefly to the ADA to note the Act's ambitions and its appreciation of the everyday aspects of life.

Keywords: ADA, disability, discrimination

JEL Classification: J70, J71

Suggested Citation

Hubbard, Ann, Meaningful Lives and Major Life Activities. Alabama Law Review, Vol. 55, p. 997, 2004, U of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 08-11, Available at SSRN:

Ann Hubbard (Contact Author)

University of Cincinnati - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0040
United States

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