e d g e - education for disability and gender equity


1 Introduction
2 Why Enact the ADA?
3 What Does the ADA Do?
4 The U.S. Constitution
5 How Voters Influence Elected Officials
6 The Disability Vote
7 Setting the Stage for the ADA
8 Campaigning for the ADA
9 Activity
10 Resources

The Americans with Disabilities Act, also known as Public Law 101-336, is a civil rights law. It makes it illegal to discriminate based on disability in several different areas of life. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in: employment, services rendered by state and local governments, places of public accommodation, transportation, telecommunications services.

A "disability" is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, and working.

People with epilepsy, spinal cord injuries, schizophrenia, AIDS, deafness, blindness, mental retardation, and major learning disabilities would be examples of individuals who are "covered" by the ADA. That means that they are entitled to some legal protection using the provisions of the ADA (which we will soon learn about). On the other hand, individuals with minor conditions which only last a short time -- such as sprained ankles, broken limbs, or the flu -- generally would not be covered.

Now we will look at the specific requirements in the ADA. There are three major sections, or "titles," in the ADA. Each one deals with a different realm, and each mandates nondiscrimination and barrier removal.

disabled worker using a filing cabinetTitle I deals with employment. This part of the ADA makes it illegal to discriminate against any "qualified individual with a disability" in decisions about hiring, firing, promotion or retention. (Note: Only companies with 25 or more employees have to follow the employment requirements of the ADA.) Under the ADA, employers are not allowed to fire someone, or refuse to hire someone, simply because of a disability, if the worker can perform the job with or without accommodations.

The last part of that sentence is very important. The disabled individual does have to be qualified to do the job. If a person applies for a job cooking in a restaurant, and isn't a very good cook, just having a disability will not get her a job! And if the person's disability makes doing a particular job impossible, he cannot claim discrimination when he doesn't get that job. However, if a worker has trouble doing a job because of a disability, the worker must be given a chance to try doing the job with some kind of "accommodation" --such as adaptive equipment, or an adjusted work schedule, or modified work duties, or supports like sign language interpreting. The employer must pay for these accommodations, as long as providing that would not prove to be too expensive or difficult.

Title II deals with state and local government services. Title II requires government offices, programs, and transportation systems to be accessible to people with disabilities. For example:

  • city administration buildings have to be accessible
  • 911 lines must have equipment to respond to deaf callers
  • newly purchased city buses must have wheelchair lifts
  • bus drivers must call out stops for blind travelers
  • city recreation programs must allow disabled children and adults to participate equally

Think about other state and local services that you are familar with such as motor vehilcles bureau, libraries, and street/sidewalk maintenance. How might each of these have to be accessible and accomodating to disabled people under the ADA?

Title III deals with "public accommodations" -- any business that serves the public, such as restaurants, stores, theaters, doctor's offices, parking lots, and dance clubs. These businesses must make sure they are not discriminating against disabled customers, through either prejudice or barriers. If a business does have barriers which make it hard for disabled customers to use and enjoy its goods or services, the business must remove those barriers if it can do so without too much difficulty or expense. For example, a shop with one step at the entrance cannot equally serve people who use wheelchairs. Building a small ramp would remove the barrier relatively easily and inexpensively. The ADA would require the business to build the ramp.

(next section - The U.S. Constitution)

NEXT arrow