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The Americans with Disabilities Act | ADA | Meaning

The Americans with Disabilities Act | ADA | Meaning

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) protects the rights of individuals with physical and mental disabilities.

ADA Meaning | What is the ADA?

The ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a law that was passed to protect individuals with disabilities as well as those who care for individuals with disabilities. The ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination against minority populations. Similarly, the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guarantees that they will have the same opportunities as individuals without disabilities. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 broadened the definition of disability.

Why is the ADA important?

The ADA aims to protect individuals in aspects of mainstream society such as places of employment, state and local government services (eg, transportation, social services, health care), and businesses open to the public. 

The ADA itself doesn’t provide a list of disabilities covered, but it defines what the law considers a disability to be. It states that a disability may be physical or mental and includes certain chronic illnesses, conditions, and injuries. 

If you have a disability or impairment, it’s important to know your rights under the ADA. The ADA protects against discrimination at places of employment (including applying for employment), transportation, and businesses. Discrimination includes retaliation, meaning an act done against you, based on your disability. 

What do you need to know about the ADA?

Who is protected under the ADA? Under the ADA, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity. A major life activity includes one’s ability to care for oneself, the use of senses (seeing, hearing), is considered to have an impairment even if it doesn’t affect a major life activity, or has a record of a disability, such as being treated for a chronic illness (eg, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and cancer).

Parents, caregivers, and individuals or organizations that assist individuals with disabilities are also protected under the ADA.

What do you need to know about the ADA?

The ADA covers five areas: employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous circumstances.

One of the biggest parts of the law is discrimination at places of employment. This includes job applicants. No person with a recorded disability may be prohibited from applying for a job or from working. 

Under the ADA, there are certain things an employer can and cannot do. For example, they cannot require that an applicant complete a medical examination unless it is a requirement being requested of all applicants—and it must be job-related. Medical information that a job applicant or employee chooses to disclose to the employer must be kept confidential too. Employers may ask about the ability an applicant with a disability has to perform the job, but they cannot ask about the existence, nature, or severity of that person’s disability. You can disclose as much as you like about your disability, but know that the interviewer should keep your information confidential.

If a job applicant or employee is protected from discrimination if they can perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations include a modification made by the employer so that the employee may perform their job. This includes equipment or devices to aid in performing the job function, a flexible work schedule, and workplace accessibility, among other modifications. There are circumstances, however, where an individual with disabilities may not be able to complete essential job functions. Or there may be circumstances where an employer cannot provide what an individual with disabilities requires because it would be considered a financial hardship.

The ADA does not obligate an employer to hire someone with a disability, but it protects that person against being discriminated against solely on that factor.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the organization responsible for enforcing the ADA regarding employment, and they have extensive information for employers about how to comply with this law. 

Public services must accommodate individuals with disabilities to make their services accessible. Businesses too must accommodate regardless of their size.

The ADA and Low Income Relief

Low Income Relief has written several posts relating to individuals with disabilities. Some of the topics covered include: 

FAQs about the ADA

We get a lot of questions about this. Here are some of the questions we are asked most often.

What disabilities does the ADA protect?

The ADA only provides a broad definition of a disability. It does not provide a specific list. 

What is a “reasonable accommodation”?

A reasonable accommodation is a change that an employer can make in order for the individual with disabilities to perform their job. A change could be a more flexible schedule or providing equipment or accessibility so that the individual can do essential job functions.

What is an undue hardship?

An undue hardship is when an accommodation would be too difficult or expensive for an employer or place of business to provide. What is considered an undue hardship under the ADA is decided on a case-by-case basis. If an undue hardship is determined, the employer must try to determine another solution. The solution could include giving the individual the option to pay for a portion of the cost involved with the accommodation.

If I think my rights have been violated under the ADA law, where can I find legal help?

If you have a disability and believe that your rights have been violated under the ADA, you may contact the ADA National Network for assistance or consult with a lawyer, if you think the situation requires one. 

Another organization to contact is the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), a nonprofit organization that provides legal advocacy services to people with disabilities.

Do I have to prove that I’m disabled?

No. You are not obligated to prove your disability beyond what is needed to obtain an accommodation.

Can an employer ask about my disability or ask if I have a disability?

No. An employer may not ask about your disability or any disability during the interview and hiring process. They can ask about it after hiring if it is to provide any reasonable accommodations. In order to benefit from the law, however, you may choose to disclose your disability.

More Resources

Other resources helping in learning more about the ADA include the EEOC, the US Department of Labor, the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), and the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division for the ADA.

Other Topics Related to ADA