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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most comprehensive federal civil rights statute protecting the rights of people with disabilities. It affects access to employment; state and local government programs and services; access to places of public accommodation such as businesses, transportation, and nonprofit service providers; and telecommunications.

Definition of Disability

The ADA protects the civil rights of individuals who (1) have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) have a record of such an impairment, or (3) are regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 clarified that the definition of disability was meant to be interpreted broadly and expanded the list of life activities to include reading, concentrating, standing, lifting, bending and others. The amendments also made it clear that the term “substantially limits” must be interpreted broadly. Disabilities such as depression, diabetes, asthma or anxiety, or digestive disorders with symptoms that are episodic or in remission must be considered as if they are active. They must also be considered even if a person uses “mitigating measures,” such as medication or assistive technology, that lessen the impact of a person’s disability.

Title I: Employment

What are civil rights protections for people with disabilities in employment under the ADA and what is required from employers?

Title I of the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability before a job offer is made. It also requires that employers provide “reasonable accommodations” to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.

What is a “reasonable accommodation?”

“Reasonable accommodations” are any modification to a job or the work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Examples of job accommodations include reassigning nonessential job responsibilities, changing the layout of workstations, or modifying equipment. Although more than half of all accommodations cost nothing, tax incentives are available to help employers implement workplace accommodations.

What are the limits of ADA in employment?

It is important for youth and families to understand that while the ADA protects employees from being discriminated against on the basis of disability, it does not require employers to hire an applicant with a disability if there is another applicant who is more qualified or just as qualified. Nor does the ADA protect employees with disabilities from being fired or laid off. As long as a dismissal is not based on an employee’s disability, employers are not violating the ADA

Title II: Access to Public Services and Programs

Ensures people with disabilities have access to broad areas of civic life

Title II of the ADA ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to civic life. This includes all state and local government programs; activities of state legislatures and courts; town meetings; police and fire departments; motor vehicle licensing bureaus; civic centers; state and local parks; community education and recreation programs; and employment.

Title III: Access to Places of Public Accommodations and Services

Ensures that people with disabilities have access to public accommodations without discrimination in private businesses and nonprofit organizations offering goods and services to the public.

Title III of the ADA covers public accommodations—private businesses and nonprofit organizations that offer goods or services to the public. Examples of places of public accommodations and services include restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, private schools, doctors' offices, fitness clubs, privately operated transportation, and courses and examinations related to professional and educational certifications.

Requires accessibility in public accommodations

Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit the exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment of people with disabilities. They also must comply with accessibility requirements for new and altered buildings and remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense.

Modifications to policies procedures and practices.

Places of public accommodations must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures and provide effective communication to people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.