The Americans with Disabilities Act was landmark civil rights legislation when it was passed by Congress in 1990. At it’s most basic level, the ADA makes discrimination based on disability illegal. It provides federal protection for the disabled in employment, public services and public accommodations.
To meet the standard of being considered disabled, the ADA states that a person must have a physical or mental impairment that creates limits on a “major life activity.” Major life activities are defined as basic functions such as seeing, breathing, performing manual labor, walking, talking or other related activities.
The ADA has four main components, or Titles that lay out specific guidelines. They are:
- ADA Title I – Employment
- ADA Title II – State and Local Government Activities/Public Transportation
- ADA Title III – Public Accommodations
- ADA Title IV – Telecommunications
ADA Title I – Employment
Title I of the ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Under this Title, an employer may not discriminate in recruiting, hiring, pay, training, layoffs, leaves, firing, promotions, social activities and other aspects of working for an employer. An employer must provide equal opportunities to everyone so that they can equally benefit from all employment related activities.
Employers are also restricted from asking about a candidate’s disability before a job offer is extended. However, an employer can ask if a person can perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation
Unless it produces an undue hardship for the employer, they must make a reasonable accommodation to provide for any mental or physical limitations of individuals with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation may include modifying work equipment, creating a modified or part-time work schedule, adjusting training materials or policies, making the workplace easily accessible and usable by disabled employees, and other related actions. The ADA also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against a disabled person who exercises their rights under the ADA.
Despite the ADA, discrimination against the disabled does happen in the workplace. However, the Federal government is aggressive when it comes to investigating complaints. If you are disabled and you believe you have been discriminated against with a current or prospective employer, you can contact any local field office of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. With a few exceptions, you must file a claim within 180 days of the alleged infraction. Some states also have local laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled, and in those circumstances, you have up to 300 days to file a claim. For more information, you can also contact the EEOC by calling (800) 669-4000 (voice) or (800) 669-6820.
ADA Title II – State and Local Government Activities/Public Transportation
Title II has two main sections. The first applies to all activities of state and local governments regardless of size or the amount of Federal funding they receive. It guarantees that all state and local governments must provide equal opportunities for disabled people to make use of all services, activities and programs. This includes employment, health care, recreation, courts, social services, voting and transportation.
Governments must follow clearly defined architectural standards in retrofitting buildings or in new construction. They must also be able to clearly communicate with anyone who has a disability, including vision, speech or hearing issues.
The second part of Title II covers public transportation and includes modes such as rail service and city buses. State and local officials must make good faith efforts to purchase or lease equipment that provides access to disabled individuals on public transportation systems. Unless there is an undue burden, officials must also provide paratransit systems that allow disabled people to be picked up and dropped off at their destinations when they are not able to use regular rail and bus systems.
Complaints of Title II violations regarding state and local government activities should be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice. Complaints regarding Title II transportation issues should be filed with the Federal Transit Administration.