Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)Last updated
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 as the first comprehensive legislation protecting the rights of people with disabilities. Prior to the ADA, people with disabilities had been protected under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which provided protection only within federally funded programs or as a federal employee. Disability rights groups including the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund and the Center for Independent Living lobbied for comprehensive legislation modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The ADA covers subjects including employment, public services, public spaces and accommodations, telecommunications, and public transportation. The regulations range from topics such as accessibility accommodations in public spaces (for instance, providing wheelchair ramps, accessible bathroom stalls, and all other minimum standards for accessibility in new construction or renovations) to protection from employment discrimination. Note that the ADA does not include an exhaustive list of disabilities covered, but instead uses the definition of disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
Additionally, coverage under the ADA is not automatic. For example, a person with a disability who works for a company with fewer than 15 employees may not have the same coverage as a person who works at a larger company; additional state laws vary as to the size of employers required to adhere to certain sections of the ADA.
A common term in discussions of the ADA is “reasonable accommodation.” A reasonable accommodation is defined under the ADA as a change to the hiring process, work environment, or way a job is performed that allows a qualified person with a disability to perform that job. For example, an employer may lift a ban on animals in the workplace to allow a person to come to work with their service animal, or an employer may be required to install a wheelchair ramp at an entrance. It’s important to note that an employer is not automatically required to provide any or every reasonable accommodation requested, even if a person meets the legal definition of disability. An employer may be able to argue that a reasonable accommodation creates an “undue hardship,” for instance, if the cost to implement it would be too high. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has further guidance on providing reasonable accommodations.
- ADA National Network (ADATA)
- Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund: Timeline (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund)
- A Brief History of the Disability Rights Movement (Anti-Defamation League)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that protects people with disabilities against discrimination. A common term in discussions of the ADA is “reasonable accommodation,” defined as a change to the hiring process, work environment, or way a job is performed that allows a qualified person with a disability to perform that job.