Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Definition

The term Americans with Disabilities Act refers to legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals that are mentally or physically impaired.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ensures individuals with disabilities have an opportunity to participate in mainstream life in the United States.

Explanation

Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the objective of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was to guarantee individuals with physical or mental challenges secured employment opportunities, could purchase goods and services, and were able to participate in state and local programs.

To be protected under the ADA, an individual must have a physical or mental impairment such that one or more of life's major activities is substantially limited.  This includes both an individual with a history of this impairment, or a person that is perceived by others as being impaired.  The ADA does not specify what impairments are covered under the act.

Under the ADA, it is illegal to discriminate against individuals because of their disability, specifically, and with respect to, the following:

  • Employment:  under Title I, employers with fifteen or more employees must provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the same opportunities available to other employees.  Title I not only prohibits discrimination in the hiring process and other privileges of employment, but also limits the questions that can be asked before a job offer is tendered.  Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations, unless it creates an undue hardship.
  • State and Local Government Activities:  under Title II, state and local governments are required to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their services and programs.  This includes public education, recreation, health care, social services, voting, and participation in town meetings.  Architectural standards apply to alterations of existing buildings as well as new construction.  Reasonable modifications to existing services and programs should be made, unless such modifications would alter the nature of the program.
  • Public Transportation:  under Title II, public transportation (city buses, trains, light rail, subways) must comply with requirements for new vehicles and make a good faith effort to ensure accessibility to existing transportation equipment, unless it results in an undue burden.  Paratransit services must be offered when an individual cannot use the existing transit system because of their impairment.
  • Public Accommodations:  Title III requires operators of private entities that own or lease restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctor offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities to comply with specific architectural standards for new and altered facilities.  These entities must also make reasonable modifications to their processes, allow for effective communications with the hearing and visually impaired, and facilitate access to existing buildings.
  • Telecommunications:  Title IV requires common carriers to establish intrastate telecommunications relay services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which enables callers with speech and hearing disabilities to communicate with others through TTY or third party assistants.

Related Terms

active job search, age discrimination, affirmative action, applicant pool, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, USERRA, short-term disability, unemployment discrimination, whistleblower