The Americans with Disabilities Act - Overview
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 09, 2020
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.
"Disability" Under the ADA
The ADA applies to persons who meet the definition of "disabled." A person is considered disabled, if he or she either actually has, or is thought to have, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits what the ADA calls a "major life activity." Major life activities are the basic components of any person's life -- including walking, talking, seeing, and learning.
The ADA does not name all of the impairments that are covered, but common examples of disabilities include wheelchair confinement, blindness, deafness, learning disabilities, and certain kinds of mental illness.
ADA Title I: Employment
Title I prohibits employers with 15 or more employees (including religious entities) from disability discriminating in hiring, promotions, training, and other privileges of employment. It also forbids asking questions about an applicant's disability. Title I requires that employers make a reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship.
Title I complaints must be filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed with a designated state or local fair employment practice agency. Individuals may file a lawsuit in federal court only after they receive a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC. Charges of employment discrimination on the basis of disability may be filed at any EEOC field office.
ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
Title II requires state and local governments, regardless of the entity's size or receipt of federal funding, to provide an equal opportunity to the disabled to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, recreation, health care, social services).
State and local governments must follow architectural standards in the new construction, must relocate programs or provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and must communicate effectively with people with various disabilities. They are required to make reasonable necessary modifications, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity, or would result in undue financial and administrative burden.
You can file complaints with the U.S. Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve violations. Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other federal agency, or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter, before going to court.
ADA Title II: Public Transportation
Title II covers services, such as city buses, subways, and Amtrak. Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services. They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems.
Questions and complaints about public transportation should be directed to:
Federal Transit Administration U.S. Department of Transportation 400 Seventh Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20590
Complaints and Enforcement:
- (202) 366-2285 (voice)
- (202) 366-0153 (TDD)
ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations include restauarants, retail stores, movie theaters, and more.
Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. Title III requires reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures, effective communication with people with various disabilities, and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation's resources.
Professional/educational courses and examination must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered. Commercial facilities must comply with the ADA's architectural standards for new construction and alterations.
You can file complaints with the Department of Justice. The Department is authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of title III, or where an act of discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Title III may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (or any Federal agency), or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter, before going to court.
For more information or to file a complaint, contact:
Disability Rights Section Civil Rights Division U.S. Department of Justice P.O. Box 66738 Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
You may also call for information at:
- (800) 514-0301 (voice)
- (800) 514-0383 (TDD)
ADA Title IV: Telecommunications
Title IV requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use text telephones (TTY's or TDD's), and callers who use voice telephones, to communicate with each other. Title IV also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.
Get Help With Your ADA Claim
Has your employer refused to make reasonable accommodations for your disability? Or has your access to a building or business been denied? The ADA protects persons with disabilities in various settings. If you have suffered disability discrimination, then you might have a valid ADA claim. Talk to an attorney with experience in discrimination today for help.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.