1. Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people 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. There are five sections, referred to in the law as “titles” that detail the rights of approximately 54 million Americans with disabilities. The ADA impacts employers, schools, businesses and transportation providers. The US Department of Justice (DOJ), the main federal agency that enforces the ADA, has a comprehensive frequently asked questions section that can help anyone looking to understand the nature of this important civil rights law. If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, you can file a complaint with DOJ or a charge of employment discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
2. The ADA was signed into law in 1990. Hundreds of organizations and government agencies signed the Proclamation for the 25th ADA Anniversary in 2015.
3. The ADA National Network. It’s important to know your rights under the ADA and there are many resources that can help you get a better understanding of the law. One useful resource is the ADA National Network, which consists of 10 regional centers and an ADA Knowledge Translation Center (ADAKTC). The Network offers a variety of ADA services that help businesses, governments and individuals at local, regional and national levels understand the ADA and how it applies to them. It provides basic information on the five titles of the ADA, as well as fact sheets on various ADA topics. For answers to questions about the ADA, call 1-800-949-4232 or visit the Network’s Frequently Asked Questions.
4. What Employers Need to Know. Employers must understand their obligations under Title I of the ADA, The ADA, and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 which cover all aspects of employment, from the hiring process to pay, training, lay-offs and beyond. Under the law, employers may not discriminate against a qualified individual based on his or her disability. However, an employer doesn’t have to hire a person with a disability if the candidate is not qualified for the job. During the recruiting and hiring process, an employer may not ask job applicants medical questions or require then to take a medical exam before extending a job offer. An employer also may not ask job applicants if they have a disability, or about the nature of the disability. Once an employer has hired someone with a disability, the company must provide reasonable accommodations if that individual requires them in order to successfully perform the job. The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) helps employers understand reasonable accommodations.
5. Rights with Rover and Fido. People with disabilities may use a service or emotional support animal for a variety of reasons. As defined by the ADA, a service animal is an animal – almost always a dog – that is trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other disability. Service animals are specifically define and covered under Titles II and II of the ADA. Therapy, emotional support or conform animals – trained or not – even if used as part of a prescribed medical treatment, are not considered as service animals under the ADA. Service animals and their handlers have rights and responsibilities under the ADA. Service animals must be under control through a harness, leash, tether or voice commands or signals. They are allowed in public places, including restaurants, unless they are out of control or not housebroken. Businesses and public places may only ask if a service animal is required because of a disability and what work it is trained to perform; they can’t ask for medical documentation or training documentation for the service animal.
6. Pregnancy and the ADA. Expecting women may be protected under the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under these laws, if an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disability employee and provide reasonable accommodations. This may include light duty, modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay. Impairments resulting from pregnancy, including gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, may be disabilities under the ADA and an employer may have to provide reasonable accommodations. The EEOC issued update pregnancy discrimination guidelines after the Supreme Court concluded that women may be able to prove discrimination if an employer accommodated some workers but not pregnant women. While the ADA covers a pregnant employee in the case of temporary disability and accommodations, there are other relevant laws that do so as well.
7. Accessing Health Care. Proper health care leads to improved quality of life for people with disabilities, and the ADA requires doctors and hospitals to provide equal access to health care to all Americans, regardless of disability. The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public and private hospitals and health care facilities. Whether or not a medical facility is accessible impacts the ability of a patient with a disability to receive adequate health care services. Health care providers may need to provide aids and services for effective communication, such as sign language interpreters for patients who are deaf. They also need to remove physical barriers from their facilities and follow ADA accessibility standards for new construction and alterations and additions. Read the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) fact sheet about the rights of people with disabilities in accessing health care.
8. Veterans and the ADA. Service members who have been seriously injured while on active duty in the U.S. military, whether experiencing a traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, hearing or vision loss or post-traumatic stress disorder, have rights under the ADA. The DOJ guide about rights of returning service members with disabilities covers employment, accessibility of stores and other public places and participation in community activities. As a civil rights law, the ADA has different standards than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Veterans seeking employment should review the EEOC’s Understanding Your Employment Rights under the American with Disabilities Act: a Guide for Veterans, which details how the ADA and the related Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protect veterans from employment discrimination.
9. Emergency Planning, Response and Recovery. States and local governments are responsible for helping their citizens prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies. The ADA requires equal access for, and prohibits discrimination against, people with disabilities in emergency planning, response and recovery. DOJ’s guide, Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Accessible to People with Disabilities, outlines information for accessible disaster notification systems, evacuation plans, emergency transportation, shelters and more. Emergency shelters should also evaluate their facilities for accessibility. State and local agencies that provide emergency telephone services must also provide “direct access” to individuals with speech and hearing disabilities. Under Title IV of the ADA, telecommunications companies must provide relay services so people who are deaf or hard of hearing can communicate with emergency response agencies. Television stations must include closed captioning when providing emergency information. The Federal Communications Commission also requires that broadcasters and cable operators make local emergency information available to people with hearing and visual disabilities. To learn more, read Disability.gov’s “Guide to Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery.”
10. Swimming Pools and Accommodation. Under Title II of the ADA, public places must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. This means that swimming pools, water recreation facilities and spas in public locations and hotels must have at least one accessible means of entry – such as a pool lift, sloped entry, pool stairs, or a transfer wall or system. The U.S. Access Board’s Guide on Swimming Pools, Wading Pools and Spas further details these types of facilities and how they can be made accessible to people with disabilities. Private residential communities are not required to make accommodations for people with disabilities under the ADA.