Americans with Disabilities Act

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA) is a law that was passed by the United States Congress in 1990. President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA, making it an official United States law, on July 26, 1990. Later, President George W. Bush amended (changed) the ADA and signed those changes into law. The changes started on January 1, 2009.[1]

The ADA is a detailed civil rights law whose goal is to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Before the ADA, people with disabilities did not have many legal protections. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964[2] was passed. This law made it illegal to discriminate against people because of their race, religion, gender, national origin (home country), and many other things. But people with disabilities were not included or protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The ADA gave the Civil Rights Act's protections - and some others - to people with disabilities.[3]

Who Is Protected Under the ADA?[change | change source]

April 28, 1988"A Bill to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of handicap." Authored by Senator Tom Harkin
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1988, S. 2346, Page 1[4]
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Page 2[5]
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Page 1[5]

The ADA protects people with disabilities. The ADA says that a disability is a physical or mental problem that makes it very difficult to do at least one "major life activity." Major life activities are things like walking, breathing, learning, reading, communicating, seeing, hearing, thinking, and other very important tasks.[6]

The ADA does not include a complete list of all possible disabilities, but it does give some examples. As long as they make it very difficult to do at least one major life activity, examples of disabilities protected under the ADA include:[6]

The ADA also counts some other groups of people as "people with disabilities" to protect them from discrimination:[3]

  • A person who has had a disability in the past (for example, a person who used to be a drug addict)
  • Someone who has a relationship with a person with a disability (for example, someone whose wife or husband has HIV)
  • When other people think a person has a disability, even if they are wrong, the person counts as a person with a disability

Who Is Not Protected Under the ADA?[change | change source]

The ADA lists some conditions that are not counted as disabilities. People with these conditions are not protected by the ADA. The goal of not including these people was to make sure the ADA's goal of protecting people with disabilities was not abused.

Conditions that do not count as disabilities under the ADA include:[7][8]

Sections of the ADA[change | change source]

The ADA has five sections, which are called titles. Each title protects against a different kind of discrimination. The titles are numbered in Roman numerals: I (one), II (two), III (three), IV (four), and V (five).

Title I: Employment[change | change source]

Title I of the ADA protects against discrimination in employment (work).

What Employers are Covered by the ADA?[change | change source]

Not every employer has to follow the ADA's rules. Employers that are covered by the ADA, and have to follow the ADA's rules, are called "covered entities."

Employers that have to follow the ADA's rules include:[9]

  • Employers (including religious organizations) with 15 or more workers
  • Employment agencies (places which help people find jobs)
  • Labor organizations (unions)

What Do Employers Have to Do?[change | change source]

Title I says that employers who are covered by the ADA cannot discriminate against a person with a disability, as long as that person is qualified (able) to do their job. Title I does not say that people with disabilities have to be hired for jobs that they are not qualified for.[10]

These employers do have to give "reasonable accommodations" to workers with disabilities if needed.[11] An "accommodation" is a change in the way things are usually done. It is a change that a worker needs because of a disability, to help them do their job. If a worker with a disability needs reasonable accommodations to do their job, that does not mean they are not qualified to do their job. As long as the worker is able to do their job with the help of accommodations, they are qualified to do the job.

Some accommodations are very simple, like letting a worker have a glass of water at their desk so they can take medicines. Examples of other accommodations are:[12]

  • Letting a worker have special equipment that helps them do their job (like a special phone for a person who has trouble hearing)
  • Changing the worker's schedule (for example, so they can go to doctor's appointments)
  • Changing the way that work jobs are explained or chosen

However, the accommodation must be "reasonable." An accommodation is not reasonable if it would be very difficult or very expensive. If an accommodation is not reasonable, the employer does not have to give it.[12]

What is Employment Discrimination?[change | change source]

Title I protects against many kinds of discrimination, including:[10]

  • Not hiring someone who can do a job, just because they have a disability
  • Firing a worker who can do their job, just because they have a disability
  • Not letting a worker get a better job, just because they have a disability
  • Not letting a worker get the same training as workers without disabilities
  • Keeping a worker with a disability separate from workers without disabilities
  • Harassing a worker with a disability
  • Paying a worker with a disability less than other workers without disabilities
  • Not letting a worker with a disability have a reasonable accommodation to help them do their job

Usually, employers cannot ask workers or people applying for jobs whether they have a disability, or ask them to give details about their disability.[13][14]

Complaints[change | change source]

If a person with a disability thinks their employer has discriminated against them, they can make a complaint to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The complaint has to be made within 180 days of when the discrimination happened. If the EEOC thinks discrimination has happened, they will send a letter that tells the person with the disability that they have the right to sue (file a lawsuit against) their employer. The person with the disability may then file a lawsuit in federal court.[15]

Title II: State and Local Government Activities - and Public Transportation[change | change source]

Title II protects against discrimination in all activities of state and local governments.

A boy wearing a jacket and a backpack
Title II says that people with disabilities, like this six-year-old with Down syndrome, must be allowed to go to public schools. This boy is ready for his first day of school

What Do State and Local Governments Have to Do?[change | change source]

Government Activities[change | change source]

State and local governments have to give people with disabilities the same chances as people without disabilities to use all of their programs and services. If people with disabilities need reasonable accommodations to be able to participate in these programs, the state or local government has to make them.

For example, people with disabilities must be allowed, just the same as people without disabilities, to:[16]

  • Go to public schools
  • Work for state or local governments
  • Have health care that is just as good as what people without disabilities have
  • Use social services (programs run by the state or local government for people who need help)
  • Use the courts
  • Vote - in a place that meets any special needs that people with disabilities might have (for example, all voting places have to be accessible to people in wheelchairs)

State and local governments also have to:[16]

  • Make their buildings accessible to people with disabilities (for example, by building wheelchair ramps, adding elevators, and adding bathrooms that can be used by people in wheelchairs)
  • Make reasonable accommodations to rules and ways of doing things, if a person with a disability needs this (for example, by letting a person with a disability have someone help them vote, if they cannot write, read, or see)
  • Have ways to communicate with people who have disabilities in hearing, speaking, or seeing
Public Transportation[change | change source]
An accessible bus, with a wheelchair lift, in Oregon

A special part of Title II covers public transportation. It protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against by public transportation. This includes city buses, subways, commuter trains, Amtrak, and all other transportation that the public can use.

Local and state governments have to:[16]

  • Make sure that any new vehicles they buy are accessible for people with disabilities
  • Honestly try to buy or lease used buses that are accessible
  • Remake buses to be accessible

Wherever there is a bus or train line that runs on a fixed route (it cannot make special stops), the government must provide paratransit. Paratransit is a service for people with disabilities who cannot use the regular public transportation system. Paratransit (usually a car or bus) picks them up and drops them off where they need to go.[16]

Complaints[change | change source]

If a person with a disability thinks that they have been discriminated against by a state or local government, they can complain to the United States Department of Justice. The complaint has to be made within 180 days of when the discrimination happened. A few different things might happen after the person files their complaint:[10]

  • The complaint might be sent to a mediation program. The person with a disability, someone from the state or local government, and a mediator will all meet together. The mediator's job is to help everyone come up with a solution that everyone can agree to.
  • The Department of Justice may bring a lawsuit against the state or local government

A person with a disability can also file their own lawsuit in a federal court, saying that the state or local government discriminated against them. The person does not need to complain to the Department of Justice first, or have the Department of Justice tell them they have the right to sue.[10]

Title III: Public Accommodations[change | change source]

Who Is Covered by Title III?[change | change source]

The ADA sets standards for construction of accessible public facilities. Shown is a sign indicating an accessible fishing platform at Drano Lake, Washington.

Title III protects against discrimination by "public accommodations." Public accommodations are private organizations or people which own, lease, or run places meant for the public to use. Examples of public accommodations include:[17]

* Restaurants * Stores * Hotels * Movie theaters * Hospitals
* Homeless shelters * Zoos * Private schools * Sports stadiums * Museums
* Convention centers * Doctor's offices * Funeral homes * Day care centers * Parks

Title III also protects against discrimination by:

  • Transportation services provided by private companies
  • Commercial facilities (like office buildings, factories, and warehouses)
  • Private companies that give tests and teach classes to people who want educational or job-related certification

There are two types of places that are exempt from Title III, and do not have to follow its rules. These are:

What Do Public Accommodations Have to Do?[change | change source]

All public accommodations have to do these things:[17]

Title III says that public places and businesses have to be accessible - for example, by having wheelchair ramps like this one
  • When a new building is built, the new buildings have to be accessible.
  • If a building is being "altered" (changed), the changes have to make things accessible, if possible. (For example, if a doorway is being moved, the new doorway must be wide enough for a wheelchair to get through.) But public accommodations do not have to make their changes accessible if that would add more than 20% to the cost of making the change.
  • Get rid of any barriers in their buildings that make those buildings not accessible. (For example, by moving a table or vending machine that makes a hallway too narrow for a wheelchair to get through.)

The rules for what is "accessible" are set out in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessibility Design. Examples of these rules include:[18]

  • Adding elevators, wheelchair lifts, or wheelchair ramps to buildings that only have stairs
  • Making doorways wide enough for wheelchairs to get through
  • Adding special phones for people with hearing problems
  • Putting Braille on elevator buttons for blind people

Most public accommodations (but not commercial facilities) have to do these things:[17]

Example of an accessible shower stall at a state park in Virginia
  • Make sure that all people with disabilities have equal access to everything that people without disabilities do. They have to create reasonable accommodations if this would help make things equal. (For example, see the picture above: a state park has built a wheelchair ramp so that people in wheelchairs can fish in the same park as people without disabilities. Without this ramp, people with disabilities would not have equal access to the park, because they would not be able to fish in the park like people without disabilities could.)
  • When building or changing swimming pools, wading pools, and spas, they have to make an accessible way for people with disabilities to get in and out.[19]
  • Make sure people with disabilities can buy and do things in the same places people without disabilities can.
  • Get rid of rules that make it impossible for people with disabilities to buy and do things in public accommodations.
  • Make reasonable accommodations in rules and ways of doing things, to make sure that people with disabilities can buy and do things in public accommodations. (For example, a clothing store might have a rule that only one person is allowed to be in a dressing room at one time. Some people with disabilities need help getting dressed. The store would have to change their rule to say that two people are allowed in a dressing room if one of them needs help getting dressed because of a disability.)
  • Have special tools to communicate with people with disabilities (like a special phone for talking with people who are deaf or have trouble hearing).
  • Make transportation accessible to people with disabilities (for example, private companies that provide transportation have to have at least some accessible vehicles, like wheelchair vans, or buses that can get closer to the ground so people in wheelchairs can get on without having to climb stairs)

Private companies that teach classes or give tests must make reasonable accommodations to make it possible for people with disabilities to take the classes or tests. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:[17][18]

  • Giving extra time for a person with a learning disability to take a test
  • Changing the way a class or test is given to a person with a disability (for example, having a sign language interpreter for a deaf person, or having someone read books from the class out loud to a blind person)
  • Making sure that the class or test is in an accessible building

Complaints[change | change source]

If a person with a disability thinks that they have been discriminated against by a public accommodation, they can complain to the United States Department of Justice. They can write a letter, fax a letter, or use an online form at http://www.ada.gov/filing_complaint.htm. A few different things might happen after the person files their complaint:[20]

  • The complaint might be sent to a mediation program. The person with a disability, someone from the public accommodation, and a mediator will all meet together. The mediator's job is to help everyone come up with a solution that everyone can agree to.
  • The Department of Justice may bring a lawsuit against the public accommodation.

If a person is unable to write, fax, or type a complaint because of a disability, the Department of Justice will make reasonable accommodations to help. The person can call the Department of Justice's ADA Information Line. The Information Line is answered by ADA Specialists. A person with a disability can explain their complaint, and the Specialist will write it down for them. If the person is deaf and uses American Sign Language, a Specialist can take their complaint by videophone (so they can see each other and sign back and forth to each other).[20]

A person can also file their own lawsuit against the public accommodation, without needing the Department of Justice to say they have a "right to sue."

Title IV: Telecommunications[change | change source]

Who Is Covered by Title IV?[change | change source]

Title IV of the ADA protects against discrimination by telecommunications companies in the U.S. (like phone companies).

Title IV protects any person with a disability, but it focuses on people with speaking and hearing disabilities, because they have the most trouble talking by phone.

What Do Telecommunications Companies Have to Do?[change | change source]

Title IV says that all telecommunications companies in the United States have to make sure that people with disabilities have equal access to telecommunication. This means that they have to provide telecommunication services that are just as good as what people without disabilities get. For example, they have to:[21]

  • Create relay services. A relay service is a way for a telephone operator to help a person with a speaking or hearing disability to call a regular phone. To do this, the person with the disability uses a keyboard or some other special tool.
  • Make their relay services available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Not charge people with disabilities any more than they charge people without disabilities.
A deaf person at work communicating with a hearing person by using a Video Relay Service. She uses Sign Language, which the operator translates out loud for the hearing person.

Relay services have changed a lot since 1990. At first, the most common relay services were teletypewriter (TTY) and Telecommunications for the Deaf (TDD) devices. These were like phones with typewriters attached. Two people with TDDs could type back and forth to each other. Or, if a person with a disability wanted to call a regular phone (like a pizza restaurant), they could type into the phone, an operator would read the message out loud to the pizza restaurant, listen to the restaurant's answer and type it back to the person with a disability.[21]

Title IV also led every state in the U.S. to create Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), such as STS relay. STS stands for Speech-to-Speech. It was created for people who have speaking problems. STS relay operators listen to what the person is saying and repeats it in a clear voice to make it easier for the other person to understand.[21] Today, many calls that use TRS are made over the Internet by consumers who use broadband connections. Some are Video Relay Service (VRS) calls, while others are text calls. Either way, communication assistants translate between the signed or typed words of a consumer and the spoken words of others. In 2006, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), VRS calls averaged two million minutes a month.

Complaints[change | change source]

Complaints about discrimination under Title IV go to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).[22]

Title V: Miscellaneous[change | change source]

Title V includes various other extra rules. For example, it says:

  • Nothing in the ADA changes or cancels anything in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.[23] Section 504 was the first law to give any civil rights to people with disabilities.
  • No one may be punished for using their ADA rights, or helping someone else use their ADA rights. (Punishing a person for this reason is called retaliation.)

References[change | change source]

  1. "President Bush Signs ADA Changes into Law". HR.BLR.com. 2008-09-25.
  2. Civil Rights Act of 1964 Archived 14 November 2009 at WebCite
  3. 3.0 3.1 42 U.S.C. 12112(b)(5), 12182-84
  4. From the George H.W. Bush Presidential Records of the George Bush Presidential Library. Folder Title: Fact Sheet on ADA [Americans of Disabilities Act]. Unrestricted.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "National Archives and Records Administration".
  6. 6.0 6.1 EEOC. "The ADA Amendments Act of 2008: Frequently Asked Questions". dol.gov. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved December 8, 2015.
  7. Civil Rights Division, US Department of Justice (2009). "42 U.S. Code § 12102 - Definition of disability, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, As Amended". ada.gov.
  8. EEOC (2008). "Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, PL 110-325 (S 3406)". eeoc.gov.
  9. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(a)
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section (July 2009). "A Guide to Disability Rights Laws". ADA.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  11. 42 U.S.C. § 12112(b)(5)
  12. 12.0 12.1 EEOC. "EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act". EEOC.gov.
  13. EEOC. "Enforcement Guidance: Preemployment Disability-Related Questions and Medical Examinations". EEOC.gov.
  14. EEOC. "EEOC Enforcement Guidance: Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act". EEOC.gov.
  15. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Filing a Formal Complaint". EEOC.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. "Title II Highlights". ADA.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. "Title III Highlights". ADA.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  18. 18.0 18.1 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section. "ADA Standards for Accessibility Design". ADA.gov. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  19. "2013 ADA Pool Lift Compliance Deadline: Has Your Business Complied?". The National Law Review. Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A. 2013-01-29. Retrieved 2013-02-19.
  20. 20.0 20.1 U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section (July 2009). "How to File a Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice". ADA.gov. Retrieved December 9, 2015.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 United States Federal Communications Commission. "Title IV of the ADA". FCC.gov. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  22. United States Federal Communications Commission. "Accessibility Complaint Filing Categories". FCC.gov. Retrieved December 13, 2015.
  23. 42 U.S.C. § 12187

Other websites[change | change source]

  • The ADA Information Line, run by the U.S. Department of Justice: Speak to an ADA Specialist who can help you understand what the ADA says and how it applies to a situation