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About the ADA

About the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

Introduction to ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President Bush on July 26, 1990, is undeniably the most comprehensive formulation of the rights of the people with disabilities in the history of the United States or of any other nation.

More than fifty million Americans have some kind of physical, sensory, cognitive, or mental disability. Even this figure, however, may not adequately express the importance of the ADA. To appreciate its full impact, it is necessary to understand that virtually every individual and every family in the United States is touched at one time or another by the experience of disability. The ADA's far-reaching provisions for employment, state and local government, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications, therefore, have the potential to benefit almost everyone.

The passage of the ADA evolved out of a series of findings from national research including points like:

  • Our 50 million Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities, and this is increasing as the population as a whole is growing.
  • Discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, health services, voting, and access to public services.
  • Unlike individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, origin, religion, or age, individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability often had no legal recourse to redress such discrimination.
  • The continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductiveness.

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public services provided by state and local governments, public services operated by private entities, transportation, and telecommunications.

Title I - Employment

The Title I Employment provisions of the ADA apply to private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions. This provision prohibits discrimination against "qualified individuals with disabilities" in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. It also applies to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits, and all other employment-related activities.

Title II - Public Accommodations by State and Local Governments

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. A public entity must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, and activities because existing buildings are inaccessible. A state or local government's programs when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This standard is known as "program accessibility." Public entities do not necessarily have to make each of their existing facilities accessible. They may provide program accessibility through the alteration of existing facilities, acquisition or construction of additional facilities, relocation of a service or program to an accessible facility, or provision of services at alternate accessible sites. Title II requires public entities to conduct a self-evaluation of current policies and practices.

Title III - Public Accommodations by Private Business

A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodations include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers. Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all of these areas.

Title III requires places of public accommodation to remove barriers in existing facilities where it is "readily achievable."

Readily achievable means it is "easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." Examples include the simple ramping of a few steps, the lowering of telephones, and similar modest adjustments. When barrier removal is not readily achievable, alternative steps are required such as providing in-store assistance for removing articles from inaccessible shelves.

Defining a Disability Under the ADA

The ADA utilizes a three-pronged definition of disability. For the purpose of coverage under the ADA, a person with a disability is define as an individual who:

  1. has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  2. has a record or history of such an impairment; or
  3. is perceived or regarded as having such an impairment

The phrase "major life activities" means functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. The determination of whether or not an impairment substantially limits a major life activity is made on an individual basis, and is not based on the existence of a condition or impairment but rather by its impact on the individual. A substantial impairment will be found when the conditions, manner, or duration under which a major life activity can be performed by the individual are limited when compared to most people.

Questions on the ADA? Go to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website at

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