Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College:
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

Boston University College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences: Sargent College:
Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

What is the ADA? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (P.L. 101-336) is the most comprehensive civil rights legislation adopted to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Public and private businesses, state and local government agencies, private entities offering public accommodations and services, transportation, and utilities are required to comply with the law. The ADA was signed into law by President George Bush on July 26, 1990, extending civil rights protections to individuals with physical or mental disabilities in the following areas: 

  • Employment (Title I) 
  • State and local government services (Title II) 
  • Public accommodations (Title III) 
  • Telecommunications (Title IV) 
  • Miscellaneous (Title V) 

Title I – Employment

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers of 15 or more employees to provide equal opportunities to qualified individuals.  It prohibits discrimination in various aspects of employment. Title I restricts employers from asking applicants about health conditions before a job offer. The text of the Americans with Disabilities Act can be found here (Text of the ADA: https://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm) as well as additional regulations (https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm). 

Title I of the ADA further discusses discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations. Employers must make “reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or employee, unless such covered entity can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose undue hardship on the operation of the businessADA, Public Law 101-336, Section 102 (b)(5)(A) 

This means that employees may need to tell the employer about the disability and how it limits functioning in order to receive accommodations. Employers are not required to provide accommodations to employees who are not qualified, that is, unable to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodations. What this means is that employers are not obligated to hire unqualified applicants or keep employees who cannot perform the skills needed to do the main parts of the job. 

Go to Definitions of ADA Terms for some of the legal terms underlined above. 

Who is responsible for enforcement of Title I?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title I of the ADA. Complaints under Title I must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is files with a designated State or local fair employment practice agency. Lawsuits can only be filed in Federal court after an individual has received a ‘right to sue’ letter from the EEOC. To locate an office, look under the U.S. Government in the telephone directory, or call (800) 669-4000 (voice) or (800) 669-6820 (TDD). 

Employers can get free technical assistance and information about how to accommodate a specific employee with a disability by contacting the Job Accommodation Network to find additional technical assistance.  

Title II – State and Local Government Activities

Title II prohibits discrimination by state and local government agencies. This Title covers all public agencies regardless of whether they receive federal assistance. This Title guarantees access to all programs, services and activities provided by a public agency, including public education, employment, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings. State and local government funded colleges and universities and other post-secondary educational programs must not discriminate under Title II. 

Architectural standards must be followed for new construction. Alteration of existing buildings or relocation of services are required, as well as reasonable modifications to policies and procedures to provide access to programs and services, except as those that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. This Title also covers public transportation systems, which are required to be made accessible to all people with disabilities. 

Who is responsible for enforcement of Title II?

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of the state and local government activities of Title II of the ADA. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination. Private lawsuits also may be brought to Federal court without a “to sue” letter. For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Disability rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice at (800) 514-0301 (voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TDD). 

Complaints regarding public transportation should be directed to the Federal Transit Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation at (202) 366-4000 (voice) or (202) 366-0153 (TDD). 

Title III – Public Accommodations

Title III prohibits discrimination by private entities and nonprofit service providers operating public accommodations. This includes privately operated entities that offer licenses and exams, private schools and colleges, banks, restaurants, theaters, hotels, private transportation, supermarkets, shopping malls, museums, health clubs, and other recreational facilities, sports arenas, doctor, lawyer and insurance offices, and other commercial facilities. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt. 

Public accommodations must not exclude, segregate or treat people with disabilities unequally. This includes compliance with architectural standards providing physical access as well as reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures, effective communication with people with disabilities, and other access requirements. Courses and examinations related to professional, educational or trade-related applications, licensing, certifications or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered. 

Who is responsible for enforcement of Title III?

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of public accommodations of Title III of the ADA. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination. Private lawsuits also may be brought to Federal court without a ‘right to sue’ letter. For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Disability rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice at (800) 514-0301 (voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TDD). 

Title IV – Telecommunications

Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires telephone carriers to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services requires closed captioning of Federally funded public service announcements. 

Who is responsible for enforcement of Title IV?

For information, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Their toll-free voice line is: 888-CALL FCC (225-5322) and toll free TTY is: 888-TELL FCC (835-5322) 

Title V – Miscellaneous

This title addresses the relationship of the ADA to other laws, development of technical assistance materials, coverage of congressional agencies and prohibits state immunity from remedies.  

For additional information and technical assistance on the ADA: https://www.ada.gov/ta-pubs-pg2.htm and for resources: https://www.ada.gov/ada_fed_resources.htm. Additional topics of interest may be found here: https://www.ada.gov/topics_of_interest.htm. 

For more information on the ADA, contact the ADA Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers at (800) 949-4232. This call connects the caller with one of the 10 regional centers that serves the caller’s region. These centers provide low cost materials, training and technical assistance. 

For examples of case law on the ADA and people with psychiatric disabilities, go to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. 


Note: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations.

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