Definition of Disability

Follow me

Gregory A. Williams, Esq.

Williams Law Group, P.S.

Admitted United States Supreme Court; Admitted United States Court of Federal Claims; Admitted United States District Court Western District of Washington; Admitted WA State Courts
Follow me

Latest posts by Gregory A. Williams, Esq. (see all)

by Gregory Williams, Esq. | Under Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD), RCW Chapter 49.60, what is the definition of disability? Here’s my point of view (please review our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy Notice before proceeding).

Under WLAD, it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate based on protected classes in employment. Protected Classes relating to employment discrimination include race or color; national origin; creed; sex or pregnancy; sexual orientation or gender identity; veteran or military status; presence of any sensory, mental, or physical actual disability or perceived disability; use of a service animal; HIV or hepatitis C; marital status; and age. Also, WLAD defines an employer as any person acting in the interest of an employer, directly or indirectly, who employs eight or more persons, and does not include any religious or sectarian organization not organized for private profit.


Under WLAD, a “disability” means the presence of a sensory, mental, or physical impairment that:

1.  Is medically cognizable or diagnosable;

2.  Exists as a record or history; or

3.  Is perceived to exists whether or not it exists in fact.

RCW 49.60.040(7)(a).

Moreover, a disability exists whether it is temporary or permanent, common or uncommon, mitigated or unmitigated, or whether or not it limits the ability to work generally or work at a particular job or whether or not it limits any other activity within the scope WLAD. RCW 49.60.040(7)(b).


Also, for purposes of this definition, “impairment” includes, but is not limited to:

1.  Any physiological disorder, or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: Neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory, including speech organs, cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitor-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine;


2.  Any mental, developmental, traumatic, or psychological disorder, including but not limited to cognitive limitation, organ brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.

RCW 49.60.040(7)(c).


Only for the purposes of qualifying for reasonable accommodation in employment, an impairment must be known or shown through an interactive process to exist in fact and:

1.  The impairment must have a substantially limiting effect upon the individual’s ability to perform his or her job, the individual’s ability to apply or be considered for a job, or the individual’s access to equal benefits, privileges, or terms or conditions of employment;


2.  The employee must have put the employer on notice of the existence of an impairment, and medical documentation must establish a reasonable likelihood that engaging in job functions without an accommodation would aggravate the impairment to the extent that it would create a substantially limiting effect.

RCW 49.60.040(7)(d).


Lastly, for purposes of RCW 49.60.040(7)(d), a limitation is not substantial if it has only a trivial effect. Keep in mind that the laws on this subject can be complex and confusing and there are many more to consider in prosecuting a claim of disability discrimination.

Learn More

If you would like to learn more, then consider contacting an experienced employment discrimination attorney to discuss your case. This article is not offered as legal advice and will not establish an attorney-client relationship with Williams Law Group, Law Office of Gregory A. Williams, P.S., inc., or the author of this article; please refer to our Disclaimer, Terms of Use & Privacy notice for more information.