The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
Title I (Employment)
Equal Employment Opportunity for Individuals with Disabilities
This title is designed to help people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disability without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense).
This portion of the law is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with this law. The regulations for Title I define disability, establish guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, address medical examinations and inquiries, and define “direct threat” when there is significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual employee with a disability or others.
Title II (State and Local Government)
Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services
This title prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by “public entities,” which are programs, services and activities operated by state and local governments. The public entity must make sure its programs, services and activities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
This title outlines the administrative processes to be followed, including requirements for self-evaluation and planning; requirements for making reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination; architectural barriers to be identified; and the need for effective communication with people with hearing, vision and speech disabilities. This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Title III (Public Accommodations)
Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities
This title prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on. This title sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense. This title directs businesses to make "reasonable modifications" to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that they take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. This title is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Title IV (Telecommunications)
This title requires telephone and Internet companies to provide a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services that allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. This title also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements. This title is regulated by the Federal Communication Commission.
Title V (Miscellaneous Provisions)
The final title contains a variety of provisions relating to the ADA as a whole, including its relationship to other laws, state immunity, its impact on insurance providers and benefits, prohibition against retaliation and coercion, illegal use of drugs, and attorney’s fees. This title also provides a list of certain conditions that are not to be considered as disabilities.