The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a law that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990. Its long title is "An Act to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability." It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush, and later amended with changes effective January 1, 2009.
The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined by the ADA as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." The determination of whether any particular condition is considered a disability is made on a case by case basis. Certain specific conditions are excluded as disabilities, such as current substance abuse and visual impairment which is correctable by prescription lenses.
On September 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). This was intended to give broader protections for disabled workers and "turn back the clock" on court rulings which Congress deemed too restrictive. The ADAAA includes a list of major life activities.
The ADA states that a covered entity shall not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. This applies to job application procedures, hiring, advancement and discharge of employees, workers' compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. Covered entity can refer to an employment agency, labor organization, or joint labor-management committee, and is generally an employer engaged in interstate commerce and having 15 or more workers. Discrimination may include, among other things, limiting or classifying a job applicant or employee in an adverse way, denying employment opportunities to people who truly qualify, or not making reasonable accommodations to the known physical or mental limitations of disabled employees, not advancing employees with disabilities in the business, and/or not providing needed accommodations in training. Employers can use medical entrance examinations for applicants, after making the job offer, only if all applicants (regardless of disability) must take it and it is treated as a confidential medical record. Qualified individuals do not include any employee or applicant who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs when that usage is the basis for the employer's actions.
Part of Title I was found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett as violating the sovereign immunity rights of the several states as specified by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. The provision allowing private suits against states for money damages was invalidated.
Title II prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local (i.e. school district, municipal, city, county) and state level. Public entities must comply with Title II regulations by the U.S. Department of Justice. These regulations cover access to all programs and services offered by the entity. Access includes physical access described in the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and programmatic access that might be obstructed by discriminatory policies or procedures of the entity.
Title II also applies to public transportation provided by public entities through regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It includes the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, along with all other commuter authorities. This section requires the provision of paratransit services by public entities that provide fixed route services.
Under Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. "Public accommodations" include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays, among other things.
Under Title III of the ADA, all "new construction" (construction, modification or alterations) after the effective date of the ADA (approximately July 1992) must be fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines ("ADAAG") found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 28 C.F.R., Part 36, Appendix "A."
Title III also has application to existing facilities. One of the definitions of "discrimination" under Title III of the ADA is a "failure to remove" architectural barriers in existing facilities. See. This means that even facilities that have not been modified or altered in any way after the ADA was passed still have obligations. The standard is whether "removing barriers" (typically defined as bringing a condition into compliance with the ADAAG) is "readily achievable," defined as "easily accomplished without much difficulty or expense."
The statutory definition of "readily achievable" calls for a balancing test between the cost of the proposed "fix" and the wherewithal of the business and/or owners of the business. Thus, what might be "readily achievable" for a sophisticated and financially capable corporation might not be readily achievable for a small or local business.
There are exceptions to this title; many private clubs and religious organizations may not be bound by Title III. With regard to historic properties (those properties that are listed or that are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, or properties designated as historic under State or local law), those facilities must still comply with the provisions of Title III of the ADA to the "maximum extent feasible" but if following the usual standards would "threaten to destroy the historic significance of a feature of the building" then alternative standards may be used. Nonetheless, as Frank Bowe predicted when he testified as the lead witness on Title III in the Senate hearings leading up to enactment, the fact that Title III calls for accessibility in, and alterations to, many thousands of stores, restaurants, hotels, etc., in many thousands of communities across the U.S. means that this Title probably has had more effect on the lives of more Americans with disabilities than any other ADA title.
Title IV of the ADA amended the landmark Communications Act of 1934 primarily by adding section 47 U.S.C. § 225. This section requires that all telecommunications companies in the U.S. take steps to ensure functionally equivalent services for consumers with disabilities, notably those who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with speech impairments. When Title IV took effect in the early 1990s, it led to installation of public Teletypewriter (TTY) machines and other TDDs (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf). Title IV also led to creation, in all 50 States and the District of Columbia, of what were then called dual-party relay services and now are known as Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS), such as STS Relay. Today, many TRS-mediated calls are made over the Internet by consumers who use broadband connections. Some are Video Relay Service (VRS) calls, while others are text calls. In either variation, communication assistants translate between the signed/typed words of a consumer and the spoken words of others. In 2006, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), VRS calls averaged two million minutes a month.
Title V includes technical provisions. It discusses, for example, the fact that nothing in the ADA amends, overrides or cancels anything in Section 504. Additionally, Title V includes an anti retaliation or coercion provision. The Technical Assistance Manual for the ADA explains it: "III-3.6000 Retaliation or coercion. Individuals who exercise their rights under the ADA, or assist others in exercising their rights, are protected from retaliation. The prohibition against retaliation or coercion applies broadly to any individual or entity that seeks to prevent an individual from exercising his or her rights or to retaliate against him or her for having exercised those rights . . . Any form of retaliation or coercion, including threats, intimidation, or interference, is prohibited if it is intended to interfere
The ADA defines a covered disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was charged with interpreting the 1990 law with regard to discrimination in employment. Its regulations narrowed "substantially limits" to "significantly or severely restricts".
In 2008, effective January 1, 2009, the ADAAA broadened the interpretations and added to the ADA examples of "major life activities" including, but not limited to, "caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working" as well as the operation of several specified "major bodily functions." The Act overturns a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case which held that an employee was not disabled if the impairment could be corrected by mitigating measures; it specifically provides that such impairment must be determined without considering such ameliorative measures. Another court restriction overturned is the interpretation that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity must also limit others to be considered a disability.
The ADAAA will undoubtedly lead to broader coverage of impaired employees. The United States House Committee on Education and Labor states that the amendment "makes it absolutely clear that the ADA is intended to provide broad coverage to protect anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of disability". Required doctor visits are not to be held against anyone with a disability.
Many of the standards mandated by the national government for the ADA were first incorporated by Ruthe B. Cowl, who established and operated the Cowl Rehabilitation Center in Laredo, Texas from 1959 until her death in 2008.
On signing the measure, George H. W. Bush said:
I know there may have been concerns that the ADA may be too vague or too costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We've all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation; and we've been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred.... Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.
On the debate of what it means to be disabled, Joan Aleshire stated in the book Voices From the Edge:
If the definition of disability is the inability to do the common daily tasks of life—getting out of bed, washing dressing, eating, going to the bathroom—and working at one’s age level in school, I’ve never really been disabled.
The ADA has been a frequent target of criticism. For example, a common claim is that individuals who are diagnosed with one of the so-called "lesser disabilities" are being "accommodated" when they should not be. On the other hand, court decisions have made necessary "an individualized assessment to prove that an impairment is protected under the ADA. Therefore, the plaintiff must offer evidence that the extent of the limitation caused by the impairment is substantial in terms of his or her own experience;" a medical diagnosis or physician's declaration of disability is no longer enough. Most people never have their discrimination cases heard in court because of the difficulty of getting past the first step.
Even those who support the intent of the law worry that it might have unintended consequences. Among other arguments, supporters hypothesize that the Act creates additional legal risks for employers who then quietly avoid hiring people with disabilities to avoid this risk. And such researchers claim to have documented a sharp drop in employment among individuals with a disability after passage of the Act. Others believe that the law has been ineffectual.
The ADA allows private plaintiffs to receive only injunctive relief (a court order requiring the public accommodation to remedy violations of the accessibility regulations) and attorneys' fees, and does not provide monetary rewards to private plaintiffs who sue non-compliant businesses. Unless a state law, such as the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, provides for monetary damages to private plaintiffs, persons with disabilities do not obtain direct financial benefits from suing businesses that violate the ADA.
Thus, "professional plaintiffs" are typically found in states that have enacted state laws that allow private individuals to win monetary awards from non-compliant businesses. At least one of these plaintiffs in California has been barred by courts from filing lawsuits unless he receives prior court permission. The attorneys' fees provision of Title III does provide incentive for lawyers to specialize and engage in serial ADA litigation, but a disabled plaintiff does not obtain financial reward from attorneys' fees unless they act as their own attorney, or as mentioned above, a disabled plaintiff resides in a state which provides for minimum compensation and court fees in lawsuits. Moreover, there may be a benefit to these "private attorneys general" who identify and compel the correction of illegal conditions: they may increase the number of public accommodations accessible to persons with disabilities. “Civil rights law depends heavily on private enforcement. Moreover, the inclusion of penalties and damages is the driving force that facilitates voluntary compliance with the ADA.”  Courts have noted: “As a result, most ADA suits are brought by a small number of private plaintiffs who view themselves as champions of the disabled. For the ADA to yield its promise of equal access for the disabled, it may indeed be necessary and desirable for committed individuals to bring serial litigation advancing the time when public accommodations will be compliant with the ADA.” 
Thousands of people have submitted requests to the Department of Justice for investigation of barriers in older buildings and design and construction errors in brand new facilities. Most of these are ignored, because even if the government wanted to investigate all of them, they lack the staff or budget to do so.
Most business owners realized after a while that there was little chance that the DOJ would come after them, and thus put off making changes to remove barriers. In most cases of uncooperative businesses, individuals must hire an attorney and bring a civil suit.
In 2007, outside counsel for the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) sought to bar a student from getting extra time on the LSAT. The LSAC thought the student was "trying to take advantage of the system," by alleging that his ADHD fell under the scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The LSAC won the case (Love v. Law School Admissions Council) and the judge denied the student's demand for extra time. However, the LSAC continues to grant 75 percent of the requests it receives for accommodations.
There have been some notable cases regarding the ADA. For example, two major hotel room marketers (Expedia.com and Hotels.com) with their business presence on the Internet were sued because its customers with disabilities could not reserve hotel rooms through their websites without substantial extra efforts that persons without disabilities were not required to perform. These represent a major potential expansion of the ADA in that this, and other similar suits (known as "bricks vs. Clicks"), seeks to expand the ADA's authority to cyberspace, where entities may not have actual physical facilities that are required to comply.
Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356 (2001), was a United States Supreme Court case about Congress's enforcement powers under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It decided that Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act was unconstitutional insofar as it allowed states to be sued by private citizens for money damages.
Barden v. The City of Sacramento
Another example, filed in March 1999, claimed that the City of Sacramento failed to comply with the ADA when, while making public street improvements, it did not bring its sidewalks into compliance with the ADA. Certain issues were resolved in Federal Court. One issue, whether sidewalks were covered by the ADA, was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled that sidewalks were a "program" under ADA and must be made accessible to persons with disabilities. The ruling was later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which refused to hear the case, letting stand the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court.
This was a case that was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 2005. The defendant argued that as a vessel flying the flag of a foreign nation was exempt from the requirements of the ADA. This argument was accepted by a federal court in Florida and, subsequently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the lower courts on the basis that Norwegian Cruise Lines was a business headquartered in the United States whose clients were predominantly Americans and, more importantly, operated out of port facilities throughout the United States.
This was a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1999. The two plaintiffs L.C. and E.W. were institutionalized in Georgia for diagnosed mental retardation and schizophrenia. Clinical assessments by the state determined that the plaintiffs could be appropriately treated in a community setting rather than the state institution. The plaintiffs sued the state of Georgia and the institution for being inappropriately treated and housed in the institutional setting rather than being treated in one of the state's community based treatment facilities.
The Supreme Court decided under Title II of the ADA that mental illness is a form of disability and therefore covered under the ADA, and that unjustified institutional isolation of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination because it "perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life." The court added that "confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment."
Therefore, under Title II no person with a disability can be unjustly excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs or activities of any public entity.
Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America v. The University of Michigan
This was a case filed before The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division on behalf of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America against University of Michigan – Michigan Stadium claiming that Michigan Stadium violated the Americans with Disabilities Act in its $226-million renovation by failing to add enough seats for disabled fans or accommodate the needs for disabled restrooms, concessions and parking. The U.S. Department of Justice assisted in the suit filed by attorney Richard Bernstein of The Law Offices of Sam Bernstein in Farmington Hills, Michigan, which was settled in March 2008. The settlement required the stadium to add 329 wheelchair seats throughout the stadium by 2010, and an additional 135 accessible seats in clubhouses to go along with the existing 88 wheelchair seats. The agreement now is a blueprint for all stadiums and other public facilities regarding accessibility.
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|←Public Law 101-335||Public Law 101-336
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
|Public Law 101-337→|
104 Stat. 328, S. 933, enacted
July 26, 1990.
Note: This is the original legislation as it was initially enacted. Like many laws, this statute may have since been amended once or many times, and the text contained herein may no longer be legally current. Follow the interlinks within the content or check to see What Links Here for more.
An ActTo establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.
Except for any civil action brought for a violation of section 303, no civil action shall be brought for any act or omission described in section 302 which occurs—