Legal Rights & Protections

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

You have already learned that Section 504 was created so that people with disabilities cannot be discriminated against by any institution, program, or activity that receives federal funds. The Americans with Disabilities Act maintains this same anti-discrimination principle with one difference: it extends beyond 504 to include private sector employment, public services, public accommodations, and transportation - that is, those companies and entities that do not receive federal funding. A few examples are restaurants, amusement parks, theaters, hotels, city buses and grocery stores. ADA was signed into law in 1990, and revised in 2010. The legislation includes several major provisions. They are:

Title I of the ADA covers employment. Employers who have 15 or more employees cannot refuse to hire or promote a qualified individual simply because he or she has a disability. They also may not ask an individual about the presence, nature or severity of a disability. The employer is also required to make accommodations (that is, within reason, or without creating an undue burden for the employer) to assist a person with disabilities in performing essential job functions. Examples of job modifications might include modifying work schedules to allow the person to work when he or she is most productive, or modifying equipment used on the job. Importantly, ADA also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for opposing an employment practice that the employee believes is discriminatory based on disability.

Title II of the ADA covers services provided by the state and local government, including public transportation, libraries, and recreation programs. This title requires that public transit, such as busses, be accessible. Likewise, rail stations are required to be accessible, and trains should have at least one car that is accessible. AMTRAK and other train systems may not deny services to individuals with disabilities that are available to people without disabilities. Title II also ensures that these services allow for the participation of people who have hearing and/or visual impairments by providing auxiliary aids and services including the use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (such as a microphone a bus driver can pin on his shirt to allow a person with a hearing impairment to hear stops being called), and providing materials in accessible formats (braille, reading aloud, providing sign language interpreters, etc…).

Title III of the ADA covers public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and privately owned transportation systems such as taxi companies. This legislation ensures that no public accommodation can refuse or exclude a person based on his or her disability. New buildings must be built to be accessible and barriers to older buildings that are not accessible must be removed if feasible. The one exception to this requirement are churches and places of worship; because of the separation of church and state in our Constitution, places of worship do not have to meet the accessibility requirements for new buildings.

Title IV of the ADA covers telecommunication services. It mandates that public telephone services provide relay services to those who use any kind of telecommunication devices for the deaf (i.e. typed messages can be relayed to an operator who speaks the message to the other party and then types the response or people with hearing impairments may use a special phone with captioning). These services must be available every day, 24 hours a day to ensure that people with hearing impairments have equal access to telephone service. The title also requires captioning for any public service announcement on TV that is produced or funded partially or in whole by the federal government.

The ADA recently turned 20, watch this video that commemorates this occasion:

The ADA was actually patterned after Section 504, and as you can see is essentially the same thing – with one major difference! Just remember: Section 504 covers federally funded entities or services, and ADA covers all entities or services open to the public, whether or not these entities receive federal funds or not. The one exception to the ADA is a religious one: of all places open to the public, only places of worship are excluded from the mandates of ADA.

Religious institutions are excluded from the accessibility requirements of the ADA, Congress determined, because of the separation of church and state in our Constitution. Do you agree or disagree with exempting places of worship, and the public accommodations that they run from the ADA's requirements? Write a one page reaction stating your position and your reasons.

You can find more information about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, its revisions, and its applications here: