ADA Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

Title I - Employment
• Helps people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities.
• Requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do the job without causing the employer “undue hardship” (too much difficulty or expense).
• Defines disability, establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, and addresses medical examinations and inquiries.

Title II - Public Services: State and Local Government
• Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by “public entities” such as state and local government agencies.
• Requires public entities to make their programs, services and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities.
• Outlines requirements for self-evaluation and planning; making reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination; identifying architectural barriers; and communicating effectively with people with hearing, vision and speech disabilities.

Title III - Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities
• Prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Public accommodations include privately owned, leased or operated facilities like hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, doctor’s offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters, and so on.
• Sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of commercial facilities and privately-owned public accommodations. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense.
• Directs businesses to make “reasonable modifications” when serving people with disabilities.
• Requires that businesses communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities.

Title IV - Telecommunications
• Requires telephone and Internet companies to provide a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services that allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone.
• Requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.

Title V - Miscellaneous Provisions

• Contains a variety of provisions relating to the ADA, including its relationship to other laws, state immunity, its impact on insurance providers and benefits, prohibition against retaliation and coercion, illegal use of drugs, and attorney’s fees.

An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (PDF)