Special Cases: Impairments that are Temporary, Episodic, or in Remission

Temporary Impairments
A temporary impairment does not constitute a disability for purposes of Section 504 unless its severity is such that it results in a substantial limitation of one or more major life activities for an extended period of time. The issue of whether a temporary impairment is substantial enough to be a disability must be resolved on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration both the duration (or expected duration) of the impairment and the extent to which it actually limits a major life activity of the affected individual (Question #34 in OCR’s revised Q&A). Consequently, the fact that the impairment is not permanent does not prevent the impairment from constituting a disability under Prong One if it is substantially limiting.

Episodic Impairments
The ADAAA declares that, “an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.” Some students have physical or mental impairments that ebb and flow in activity and severity. Conditions such as seasonal allergies or asthma, migraines, and cystic fibrosis are good examples of impairments that may be substantially limiting at times (in hot weather, when the student is stressed, when irritants or trigger factors are present) and have little impact at other times. Schools commonly find such students to be disabled under Section 504 if their condition, though not constant, episodically rises to the level of substantial limitation of a major life activity. Congress’ concern seems to be that eligibility is not denied simply because the disability, at the moment of evaluation, is not substantially limiting, when the school knows from experience that substantial limitation will recur at some time. Thus, Section 504 teams should look carefully at data over a range of time (as opposed to a snapshot of what is occurring on the day the Section 504 team performs the evaluation to determine whether the student is disabled). The timing of the evaluation should not function to preclude a finding of disability for students whose impairments are episodic and who are not substantially limited at the time of evaluation.

Impairments in Remission
The ADAAA’s language regarding impairments in remission is identical to that regarding episodic impairments: “An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.” In essence, this provision takes impairments that were historically covered only by Prong Two (“record of” a disability) and transforms them into current (Prong One) impairments if the student is substantially limited when the impairment in remission is active. For example, a student who had cancer in elementary school could be disabled under Prong One of Section 504 in middle school, even though the student’s cancer has been in remission for five years, if the cancer was substantially limiting when it was active in elementary school.

Next: Click to proceed to Prong 2: Record of Impairment.