Civil Rights

Disability law seeks to protect individuals with disabilities from experiencing discrimination, abuse, or neglect in employment, housing, education, and access to public services because of their disability. Disability law is mainly regulated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), though states also have enacted disability statutes that are consistent with the ADA. Many federal and state laws now prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities, which may be physical, psychiatric, sensory, or cognitive.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by requiring employers, landlords, businesses, and individuals to make reasonable accommodations so that individuals with disabilities have equal access to services, programs, and opportunities, such as employment and housing. The ADA's employment discrimination provisions apply to employers with 15 or more employees. Several federal agencies and departments enforce the ADA, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Department of Labor and the Department of Justice.

A person has a disability if he or she has "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment." Whether or not a person's condition is a disability under the ADA is determined on a case by case basis.

Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws

Several other federal statutes outlaw discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including the Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq., prohibits the denial of housing based on an individual's disability and bans discrimination against persons because of their disabilities when renting or selling a home. This Act applies to landlords, real estate companies, municipalities, banks or other lending institutions, and homeowners insurance companies that may make it more difficult for persons with disabilities to have equal access to housing. The FHA also requires property owners to make reasonable exceptions in their housing policies so that people with disabilities have equal access to housing opportunities.

Federal agencies and programs are prohibited from discriminating based on disability by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 701. Additionally, the Act outlaws discrimination by programs receiving federal money, in federal employment, and in federal contractors' employment practices.

The Air Carrier Access Act, 49 U.S.C. § 41705, prohibits domestic and foreign air carriers from discriminating against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments. The Act applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public, and addresses a variety of compliance issues, including boarding assistance and accessibility of aircraft and airport facilities. In 1990 The Department of Transportation issued a rule defining the rights of passengers and the obligations of air carriers under the Act, found at 14 C.F.R. Part 382.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §1400, public schools must provide all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment according to their needs. This requires schools to provide students with disabilities with necessary learning aids, testing modifications and other accommodations.

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the "Motor Voter Act," requires all offices of state-funded programs that provide services to persons with disabilities to provide all program applicants with voter registration forms, assist them in completing the forms, and transmit completed forms to the appropriate state official.

State Disability Law

State laws also protect persons with disabilities. These laws vary by jurisdiction and may be even stricter than applicable federal laws. For example, The state of Washington's anti-discrimination statute protects a broader category of people than federal law, such as individuals with temporary or short-term disabilities who otherwise may not be covered by law. Most states have set-up some form of government agency or commission that addresses discrimination against persons with disabilities.