An Introductory Guide to All Things Concerning the Americans With Disabilities Act


The above picture shows papers on a desk with the cover saying Americans with Disabilities Act.

What Does ADA Stand For? Here's Why You Should Know?

40 million people in the U.S. have a disability. That's 12 percent of the population. 7.5 percent of disabled adults are working. They're protected by the ADA. You may have heard of it but still wonder, what does ADA stand for?

We'll take a closer look at this important piece of legislation. We'll also look at how it protects millions of people every day.

What Does ADA Stand For?

ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

It also guarantees that they have the same opportunities as everyone else. Those opportunities include employment. They also include access to transportation, public accommodations, communications, and government activities. 

The protections are similar to the ones provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.

What Does the ADA Do?

The ADA makes it illegal for employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions to discriminate against the disabled. Employers are also required to make reasonable accommodations to help a disabled person do their job.

Reasonable accommodations might include things like part-time or modified work schedules, work from home opportunities, or a modification of equipment or devices.

The ADA also set standards for how public places should be accessible to the disabled. Those standards include automatic doorways, ramps, and elevators to accommodate wheelchairs. Water fountains also have to be available at heights that disabled people can reach.

The ADA is broken down into sections called "titles". These explain specifically how the ADA must be applied in key areas.

Title I

This first section deals with the workplace. It states that employers have to provide reasonable accommodations for both employees and job applicants. Disabled people should have access to the same opportunities as non-disabled people do.

For example, an employer might provide a sign language interpreter for a deaf job applicant. Or, an employer might renovate the workspace to make it accessible to people with disabilities. 

This section also states that employers can't refuse to hire someone because of their disability. They can't fire someone because of it either.

Title II 

The next section addresses public services like state and local government agencies. The ADA says those agencies can't deny services to disabled people, and they can't make it impossible for disabled people to participate in programs or activities. Public transportation systems, like buses and trains, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. 

Title III

Title three covers public accommodations. These include restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, and shops.  It says all new construction and modifications must allow disabled people to access them. For existing facilities, barriers must be removed if readily achievable. It might be as simple as installing a wheelchair ramp and automatic doors to ease access to the building.

Title IV

The fourth section deals with communication. It says any company that provides telephone service to the public must also offer telephone relay service to people who need them. Text telephones (TTYs) are used frequently by the deaf and hearing-impaired. 

Title V 

The last section says no one can threaten or retaliate against people with disabilities. It also covers anyone who tries to help the disabled assert their rights under the ADA.

Who Is Covered by the ADA?

You're protected by the ADA if you have a disability. The ADA originally defined a disability as a "physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment."

However, the ADA was revised, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) took effect on January 1, 2009.  The ADAAA expanded the definition of disability to give greater protection to more people.

Members of Congress had discovered that people with dozens of impairments like epilepsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and bipolar disorder weren't able to bring ADA claims. They simply didn't meet the ADA’s definition of “disability.”

The ADAAA now defines a disability as one or more of three criteria:

  • a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities 
  • a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity 
  • when a covered entity takes an action prohibited by the ADA because of an actual or perceived impairment that is not both transitory and minor 

Essentially, Congress made it easier for someone seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability. 

What Are Major Life Activities?

The ADAAA gives a list of examples that include things like caring for oneself, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working.

Who Enforces the ADA?

Different federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the different parts of the legislation.  For example:

The penalties for violating the ADA are steep. A company can be fined up to $75,000 for the first violation and $150,000 for any subsequent violation.

Final Thoughts

There are exceptions to the ADA. Businesses with fewer than 15 employees are not bound by the employment sections of the ADA. Also, an employer doesn't have to provide a reasonable accommodation if it would cause an "undue hardship."

Undue hardship is defined as anything that would create significant difficulty or expense for the employer. When evaluating this, the company's size and financial resources are taken into consideration.

We hope you've found answers to the question, "what does ADA stand for?" Our mission is to work with employers to find jobs for the disabled. We have more than 300,000 active disabled jobs right now. We're happy to answer any questions you have about our services. Please feel free to contact us any time.