The Americans with Disabilities Act


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. These areas include schools, jobs, transportation, and all private and public places that are open to the general public. The ADA became federal law in 1990.

What is ADA?

The law’s primary purpose is to extend civil rights protection for citizens with disabilies similar to the protections provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It does this by guaranteeing equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, government services, employment, transportation, and telecommunication, representing five titles or sections.

In 2008  the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) amended the ADA standards. The primary purpose of the amendment was to expand and strengthen the definition of “disability" in accordance to with the new law.

Who is covered under ADA?

It is important to note that disability is a legal term rather than a medical term under the ADA.

To be covered and protected under the ADA, an individual must meet the requirements of the definition “disability.” The ADA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This definition includes those who have a history or record of impairments or are perceived as having them by others.

The ADA defines “major life activities” as those functions that are important to an individual’s daily life. These activities may include walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, working, and more. These major life activities also include bodily functions, such as digestive, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, reproductive, and immune system function.

The ADA does not include an exclusive or exhaustive list of conditions considered to be a disability.

Who is not covered under ADA?

All of those who fall under the strict definition of disability per the ADA are covered and are known as a covered entity. However, some individuals may not have rights under particular titles or sections of the ADA.

Each section or title has its requirements to meet coverage. So, it is essential to understand that a determination of disability is case-by-case.

Where do ADA laws apply?

The laws regarding the ADA are divided into five titles that relate to different areas of public life. These guidelines specify the reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures that are required. The five titles include:

  • Title I (Employment) – Addressing equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities within the workplace. Title I also addresses reasonable accommodations for medical examinations.
  • Title II (State and Local Government) – addresses nondiscrimination based on disability relative to state and local government services and activities. These services include public transportation.
  • Title III (Public Accommodations) – This relates to nondiscrimination based on disability by private places of public accommodation.
  • Title IV (Telecommunications) – This section addresses the requirements of telephone and internet companies.
  • Title V (Miscellaneous Provisions) – The final title addresses various provisions relating to ADA as a whole.


Title I of the ADA addresses equal employment opportunities for those with disabilities. It ensures individuals with disabilities get access to the same employment opportunities and benefits as others without disabilities.

Title I applies to private employers, state and local government agencies, employment agencies, and labor unions. It ensures those with disabilities cannot be discriminated against due to applying for jobs, hiring, firing, and job training. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Per Title I, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to job applicants or employees with disabilities. These accommodations refer to any adjustment or modification to a job or work environment that will enable qualified individuals to perform their job functions without causing the employer undue hardships (e.g., increased expense).

Title I of the ADA is regulated and enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Public services, State, and Local Government

Title II of the ADA addresses the requirements of state and local government services, prohibiting discrimination based on disability in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. Title II applies to the departments and agencies of all state and local governments such as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB), also known as the Access Board.

In brief, Title II requires these local government facilities to make their services and programs accessible to those with ADA-approved disabilities. Title II significantly impacts public transit systems, including commuter vehicles and rails, pedestrian facilities, and roadways. Private transportation services are covered under Title III.

Title II outlines the requirements for policies, practices, and procedures for self-evaluation and planning to avoid disability discrimination. These requirements better serve those with hearing, vision, and speech disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Justice enforces Title II, per the ADA.


Title III outlines the ADA requirements for public accommodations and services operated by private businesses. It prohibits these places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.

Public accommodations include privately-owned, leased, or operated businesses (e.g., hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, movie theaters, and so on).

Title III sets minimum accessibility standards for them to follow, both for alterations and new facilities. Entities must make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities.

Title III is also regulated and enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.


Title IV of the ADA deals with telecommunication entities, such as telephone and internet services. It requires them to provide a nationwide telecommunication relay service system for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities for effective communication over the telephone.

Additionally, Title IV requires applicable entities to provide closed captioning or other auxiliary aids for federally funded public service announcements. It also requires methods such as qualified readers or other effective methods for individuals with visual impairment.The Federal Communication Commission regulates Title IV.

Miscellaneous Provisions

The fifth and final title of the ADA, Title V, deals with miscellaneous provisions related to the whole of the ADA. These provisions cover the ADA’s relationship to other laws, state immunities, and its impacts on insurance companies.

Title V also covers stipulations regarding illegal drug use, attorney fees, and prohibitions against coercion.

Finally, Title V outlines and provides a list of definitions and certain conditions that are not considered disabilities per the ADA.

What does ADA require employers to do?

Title 1 of the ADA lays out Employer responsibilities and requirements. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), through the help of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), enforces Title 1.

As discussed, the most significant component of employer responsibility under Title I of the ADA is the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations, both for employees and job seekers with disabilities.

Per Title I, the employer must make reasonable accommodations for such individuals to perform their job duties, but these must not create an undue hardship on the employer. Examples of reasonable accommodations may include providing written material in accessible formats (e.g., large print, audio, or Braille).

What does “Non-ADA” mean?

Non-ADA pertains to commercial facilities that do not meet the requirements outlined in Title III of the ADA. For example, it could refer to a facility that is not handicapped accessible.

There are two primary reasons for non-ADA compliance:

  • One, the rules for ADA are not applicable (private business with less than 15 employees).
  • Two, the entity is non-compliant with ADA regulations and minimum requirements.

Who is ADA exempt?

There are some ADA exemptions to be aware of. Section 203 General Exemptions lists many exemptions about non-occupant areas and various employee work areas (e.g., construction sites). Also, some historic buildings are exempt due to their construction before the ADA legislation.

Religious organizations and private clubs are also exempt from ADA. These are entities that have been historically exempt from federal civil rights laws. However, these entities may still be subject to state and local accessibility codes.

How do you prove ADA discrimination?

The first step in proving ADA discrimination is ensuring you meet the disability requirements and definition according to the ADA law. Next, you will have to provide proof of the absence of reasonable accommodations to the court, and that you suffered adverse employment actions because of them (e.g., being fired). Of course, providing evidence is extremely important, so many individuals opt for legal counsel.

You can file an ADA complaint alleging disability discrimination with the U.S. Department of Justice. ADA complaints include complaints leveled against state or local governments or public accommodations.


The Americans with Disabilities Act is the most important civil rights legislation for protecting those with disabilities against discrimination; this includes discrimination by employers, state and local governments, and some businesses.

The ADA requires an individual to meet specific requirements to be covered. Five titles laid out in the ADA cover the requirements, regulations, and how the law applies to various entities.

TItles I through V have specific requirements as they relate to protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination.