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 of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers of 15 or more employees to provide an equal opportunity 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 actual law reads:
No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. ADA, Public Law 101-336, Section 102 (a)
Go to Definitions of ADA Terms for some of the legal terms underlined above.
Title I of the ADA further discusses discrimination and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations:
…the term “” includes not making 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 business. ADA, Public Law 101-336, Section 102 (b)(5)(A)
Employers are obligated to provide accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of applicants or employees that are due to the disability. This means that employees might be obligated to tell the employer about the disability and how it limits functioning in order to receive accommodations.
In addition, 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 nor 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 identify other organizations offering information and technical assistance). Go to the What Can I Read for More Information (for Employers) page for lists of readings on the ADA and related topics.
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. Go to What Can I Read for More Information (for Educators) for lists of readings on the ADA, education, and related topics.
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) 366-2285 (voice) or (202) 366-0153 (TDD).
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 addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires telephone carriers to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enable callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use text telephones (TTYs or TDD), and callers who use voice telephones to communicate with each other through third party assistance. Title IV also 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) or (202) 418-2357.
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. This title specifies certain mental disorders, which are not covered by the ADA, including transvestism or other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania or pyromania, or substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.
This ADA Information was adapted from: U.S. Department of Justice. (1996). A Guide to Disability Laws. U.S. Government Printing Office: 1997 417-737/64278.
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.
The following are definitions of the legal terms used in the ADA which are underlined in the above text.
Covered entity – Currently, Title I of the ADA applies to all private employers with at least 15 employees and all public employers except the U.S. government. The ADA also covers employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. None of these organizations are allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities. Religious organizations also are covered, although they may give preference in employment to members of their religion. The only employers not covered are Indian tribes, the U.S. government, and tax exempt private membership clubs.
Disability – The ADA defines disability broadly covering people in three categories:
- people who currently have a disability,
- people who have a history of disability, and
- people who are perceived as disabled by others whether or not they actually have a disability.
A disability is an impairment, either mental or physical, that “limits one or more major life activities.” Major life activities include the ability to care for yourself, learn, work, walk, see, hear, speak, breathe, or maintain social relationships, among others. In the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on the ADA and People with Psychiatric Disabilities, examples of the definition of psychiatric disabilities, also known as mental illnesses, are described. Go to the Summary of this Guidance on this page, or link directly to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to get a full copy of the text.
The ADA also covers past history of alcoholism and drug abuse if the person is no longer currently using illegal substances. Alcoholism is covered as a disability if a person is still abusing alcohol, although it does not prohibit an employer from taking disciplinary action for unsatisfactory performance or failure to comply with company policy.
The third category of disability covered by the ADA protects people who are believed to have a disability whether or not they actually have one. Some examples of people covered in this category include a person who may have been hospitalized for depression as a teenager, or a person receiving therapy or medication to control some condition that is not disabling.
The ADA specifies conditions that are not covered, including kleptomania, pyromania, compulsive gambling, all sexual behavior disorders, and current illegal use of drugs. Homosexuality also is not covered by the ADA unless the employer refuses to hire such a person under the assumption they will bring AIDS into the workplace.
Essential functions – The minimum required duties and abilities necessary to perform the tasks of the job. Essential functions of a job often can be determined by writing accurate job descriptions to determine which tasks are a major part of the job and which are not. Factors to consider include the percentage of time spent performing those duties, the qualifications required to do these tasks, and whether the job exists in order to have these duties performed.
Qualified individual with a disability – Any individual with a disability who has the ability, skills, and education to perform the essential functions of a job either with or without reasonable accommodations.
Physical or mental limitations – Difficulties in functioning or performing tasks that are due to the disability or medical condition. For example, someone with schizophrenia may hear voices (a symptom of the medical condition), which may interfere with concentrating on a task for long periods of time.
Reasonable accommodations – Changes or adjustments in a work or school site, program, or job that makes it possible for an otherwise qualified employee or student with a disability to perform the duties or tasks required.
Undue hardship – Excessive financial burden or interference with the nature or operation of the business. Factors considered in determining undue hardship include the overall financial resources of the organization, the nature and cost of the accommodation, and the impact of providing the accommodation on the particular site or operation of the business.
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.