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By Terry DeYoung

More than 54 million Americans with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit daily activities are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These activities include working, walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or caring for oneself. People who have a record of such an impairment and those regarded as having an impairment are also protected. The ADA has five titles (summaries of major requirements included):

Title I — Employment: prohibits discrimination in employment against people with disabilities. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant or employee, unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Title I also prohibits the use of employment tests and other selection criteria that screen out, or tend to screen out, individuals with disabilities, unless such tests or criteria are shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity. It also bans the use of pre-employment medical examinations or inquiries to determine if an applicant has a disability. Employers are permitted, at any time, to inquire about the ability of a job applicant or employee to perform job-related functions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces Title I.

Title II — State and Local Governments: services and programs of local and State governments, as well as other non-Federal government agencies, shall operate their programs so that when viewed in their entirety are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. Title II entities: do not need to remove physical barriers, such as stairs, in all existing buildings, as long as they make their programs accessible to individuals who are unable to use an inaccessible existing facility; must provide appropriate auxiliary aids to ensure that communications with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments are as effective as communications with others, unless an undue burden or fundamental alteration would result; may impose safety requirements that are necessary for the safe operation of a Title II program if they are based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities. In addition, Title II seeks to ensure that people with disabilities have access to existing public transportation services.

Title III — Public Accommodations: includes the broad range of privately owned entities that affect commerce, including sales, rental, and service establishments; private educational institutions; recreational facilities; and social service centers. In providing goods and services, a public accommodation may not use eligibility requirements that exclude or segregate individuals with disabilities, unless the requirements are “necessary” for the operation of the public accommodation. Title III also requires that public accommodations provide auxiliary aids necessary to enable persons who have visual, hearing, or sensory impairments to participate in the program, but only if their provision will not result in an undue burden on the business. With respect to existing facilities of public accommodations, physical barriers must be removed when it is “readily achievable” to do so (i.e., when it can be accomplished easily and without much expense).

Title IV — Telecommunications: requires that telephone companies provide telecommunications relay services that allow individuals with hearing impairments to communicate using a TTY or other non-voice device. Relay services may be accessed by dialing 7-1-1. Title IV also requires that all television public service announcement produced by or funded in whole or in part by the federal government include closed captioning.

Title V — Miscellaneous Provisions: includes information regarding the ADA’s relationship with other federal and state laws, including the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, requirements relating to the provision of insurance, construction and design regulations by the U.S. Access Board, prohibition of state immunity, inclusion of Congress as a covered entity under the law, promotion of alternative means of dispute resolution, and establishment of technical assistance resources.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendments Act of 2008
On September 25, 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law. The ADAAA focuses on the discrimination at issue instead of the individual’s disability. It makes important changes to the definition of the term “disability” by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of the EEOC’s ADA regulations. The Act retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” but expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists: The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating); the second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, respiratory, neurological, brain, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”); and, it emphasizes that “disability” should be interpreted broadly. (Source:

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