Since it was signed into law on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has increased opportunities in employment, education, entertainment, communication, community access and civic action by prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.
The civil rights law, which has its 23rd anniversary on July 26, 2013, is divided into five sections that cover different areas.
- Title I: Employment
- Title II: State and local government programs
- Title III: Public accommodation
- Title IV: Telecommunications
- Title V: Miscellaneous provisions such as enforcement, retaliation and attorney fees
President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA in 1990, with final regulations on employment provisions, public services and public accommodations completed a year later. In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act, based on a belief that the courts were interpreting the definition of disability too narrowly and denying protection for individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes and epilepsy. The amendments made it easier for individuals to establish that they have a disability under the ADA and also clarified that the focus should be on whether discrimination occurred, not an analysis of whether the person has a disability.
How is Disability Defined under the ADA?
An individual is considered to have a “disability” if he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Individuals are also protected from discrimination if they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability. Major life activities include things like breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, caring for one’s self and working, plus major bodily functions such as immune system functions.
Title I: Employment
This section of the ADA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of work by private employers with 15 or more workers, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions, and others. Employers are not required to make an accommodation if it would impose an “undue hardship” on the business.
Title II: State and Local Government Programs
This section ensures people with disabilities have equal access to civic life and can benefit from public aid, benefits and services. It essentially covers all state or local government services, including public housing, education, transportation, parks and recreation, detention, emergency response and police. Public entities are required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary and make reasonable modifications unless it would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program or activity, or if there is a legitimate safety concern.
The historic Olmstead decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1999 stated that Title II of the ADA prohibits the unnecessary institutionalization of persons with disabilities and that services must be provided “in the most integrated setting possible.” This decision has increased community participation and independence of people with disabilities and seniors moving out of nursing homes and other institutions.
Title III: Public Accommodation
Under this title, private businesses may not discriminate against people with disabilities or deny full and equal enjoyment of their goods and services. This includes both for-profit and not-for-profit businesses such as hotels, restaurants, stores, libraries, day care centers, private transportation services, professional offices and hospitals. Private membership clubs and religious organizations are exempt. Service animals under the ADA are limited to trained dogs, and this does not include emotional support or therapy animals. There are some limitations such as whether an accommodation would fundamentally alter the nature of goods or services or if it would place an undue burden on the business.
Title IV: Telecommunications
The ADA requires businesses to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing and speech disabilities. The rules allow for flexibility because the nature and complexity of communications differ, depending on the type of business. For example, exchanging written notes might be enough for many transactions, but not others, such as discussing medical test results and treatment. These rules also apply to state and local governments.
Title V: Enforcement and Other Provisions
This title includes information regarding the ADA’s relationship with other federal and state laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, insurance requirements, building construction and design regulations and alternative dispute resolution.
Celebrating the ADA Anniversary
Many events are planned each year to celebrate the ADA’s anniversary, and Governor Rick Perry proclaimed July 26, 2013, as ADA Awareness Day in Texas. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station is hosting an interactive exhibit called “access/ABILITY” until Sept. 15, 2013. This exhibit offers a chance to learn phrases in American Sign Language, type your name in Braille, try a hand-pedaled bike and do other activities. For information on local events and the governor’s proclamation, see the Office of the Texas Governor Local Disability Committees. Learn more about the ADA by visiting the Bush presidential museum’s website.
For More Information
- The Americans with Disabilities Act: Questions and Answers
Also call the ADA National Network at (800) 949-4232.
- The ADA National Network’s Disability Law Handbook
- Americans with Disabilities Anniversary Toolkit
- Information and Technical Assistance on the ADA
Also call the ADA Information Line, U.S. Department of Justice, at (800) 514-0301.