The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires that reasonable accommodation be made to provide individuals with disabilities equal access to services, programs, and opportunities, such as employment and housing. Several federal agencies and departments enforce the ADA, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice.
What is a Disability?
A person has a disability under the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, 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 law is determined individually; the ADA does not list specific covered disabilities, though some are excluded from coverage, such as pedophilia, transvestism, compulsive gambling, pyromania, and current drug use. People with past drug or alcohol problems are protected from job discrimination by the ADA, as are individuals with current alcohol problems who are able to perform their jobs.
The ADA prohibits discrimination in the workplace against qualified individuals with disabilities by an employer, public or private, generally with 15 or more employees. The ADA also governs employment agencies, labor organizations, and joint labor-management committees. The law prohibits discrimination based on disability at each step of the employment process, from job application to advancement or termination of employees.
A qualified individual is a person who is qualified to perform the essential functions or duties of a job, with or without reasonable accommodation. Reasonable accommodation is a modification to a job or workplace that allows disabled applicants or employees, otherwise qualified, to apply for a job, perform the essential functions of a job, or obtain the same benefits of employment as employees without disabilities.
Discrimination, under the ADA, is not limited to hiring and firing an individual but may take such forms as inappropriately classifying a job applicant or employee; not hiring or promoting qualified individuals who are disabled; or failing to make reasonable accommodations for employees who an employer knows has mental or physical limitations. Employers can require applicants to complete a medical examination after they have offered that person a job, but only if the employer requires that of all applicants and the employer keeps the medical record confidential.
Title II—Public Services and Public Transportation
Title II of the ADA applies to public agencies, including state and local governments, and commuter authorities, including the National Railroad Passenger Corporation. It provides that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against or excluded from the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity because of disability. This includes access to state parks, government meetings, public schools, and public transportation. The failure to make certain services accessible to disabled individuals can be considered discrimination, such as if a municipal transit agency does not make its buses wheelchair accessible.
Title III—Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
This section of the ADA applies to places of "public accommodation," including most hotels, recreational facilities, restaurants, public transportation, movie theaters, and other public places. It requires that places open to the public be accessible to persons with disabilities. If changes need to be made to make places accessible to disabled individuals, the legal standard for such changes is one of "readily achievable," or able to be accomplished simply and inexpensively. There are exceptions to this title of the ADA, so many private clubs, historical landmarks, and religious groups may not have to comply with Title III.
Title IV of the ADA requires that all U.S. telecommunications companies make their services accessible to disabled individuals, largely affecting deaf or hard-of-hearing persons and those with speech impairments. Because of this requirement, disabled individuals are now able to communicate using public Teletypewriter (TTY) machines and other TDDs (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf).
The ADA covers states, as well as Congress. Individuals who successfully file suit under the ADA are entitled to recover legal fees in addition to any other damages they may recover. This section prohibits retaliation against an individual for asserting his or her rights under the law.