Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA (Public Law 101-336, signed in June 1990) is the major legislation that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities against discrimination on the basis of their disability in employment settings (provided they are qualified, with or without accommodations, to perform the basic functions of the position), state and local governments, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications, including the United States Congress.
People are protected under the ADA only if they have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability and declare it. Under this legislation, an employer or a service provider may not be held liable to provide reasonable accommodations to an individual with a disability unless they were asked to provide such accommodations, whether the disabling condition is apparent or not. Although the ADA is not specific in the types of disability it covers, it defines a person with disability as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
The ADA is composed of four parts:
- Title 1 (Employment): Employers, including religious organizations that employ 15 or more employees, must provide accommodations to individuals with disabilities who want to access the services or programs they otherwise provide to the public. They cannot exclude individuals with disabilities from being hired solely on the basis of disability, especially if the applicants possess the qualifications that are required of the position that is advertised, with or without accommodations, unless they can prove that provision of such accommodations may cause undue burden on the business.
- Title 2 (Access to state and local governments, and public transportation): All state and local government agencies, programs, services and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings) must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. In addition, the ADA requires that all public transportation systems, including city buses and public rail transit systems (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak) must be accessible, unless they can prove that provision of such accommodations will cause in undue burden. In such cases, an alternative paratransit system must be made available to individuals with disabilities who are unable to use the regular transportation system.
- Title 3 (Public Accommodations): All business and non-profit organizations that offer public accommodations (such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors' offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs), private entities that offer services (courses and examinations), privately operated transportation and commercial facilities, must not exclude, separate, or discriminate against individuals with disabilities who are trying to access their programs and services otherwise available to the public. They must remove any architectural barriers that prevent individuals with disabilities from using their facilities.
- Title 4 (Telecommunications Relay Services): Covers access to communication and media for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.