An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Man walking with cane in cementery

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a seminal piece of legislation that extended civil rights, public access, and employment protections to Americans with disabilities. The ADA was the first significant piece of legislation that extended protections to peoples with disabilities, many of its provisions were later reflected in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a widely adopted treaty.

Civil Rights

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination by sex, race, religion, and national origin. The ADA extended those protections to include persons with disabilities. It is illegal for anyone to refuse to rent, lease, hire, fire, or do anything else based upon another person’s disabilities.

Employment Rights

The ADA also went further than the Civil Rights Act, by extending protections to require employers to adopt reasonable accommodations to enable individuals with disabilities to achieve gainful employment. The ADA does not bind all employers; it only binds “covered” employers. Covered employers include every entity with 15 or more employees.

If an entity is covered, it must provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees. Reasonable accommodations are any change that is not unduly burdensome on the employer to allow the employee with disabilities to operate effectively at his or her job. The accommodation can be technological, like a powered chair or elevator. It can be organizational, for example with a shorter shift. Moreover, the employee receiving the accommodation must continue to provide essential services.

Public Accommodation

Similarly, the ADA imposes reasonable accommodation requirements on public transportation and public entities. Essentially, any entity that provides transportation services that are open to the public must adopt reasonable accommodations to ensure that a person with disabilities may utilize its service.

An entity is open to the public if members of the public may purchase and utilize its services. For example, a taxi service is open to the public because anyone can purchase a ride. Additionally, companies that rely on “exclusive” memberships which can be purchased by the public at large are also bound.

The ADA does not cover someone who drives to pick up friends or family from airports because those transportation services are not open to the public.

This requirement also extends to businesses that are open to the public. For instance, restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores all must adopt reasonable accommodations to ensure that everyone with disabilities has fair and equitable access.