Quick Guide to The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

In 1967, Lex Frieden suffered a debilitating car crash that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. But what happened after that was even more devastating: Frieden was rejected from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma because he was confined to a wheelchair.

The Civil Rights Act had been passed in 1964 and Frieden, upon getting the rejection letter, immediately identified with the millions of people who had been discriminated against simply because of their disabling condition.

While pursuing master’s degree at the University of Houston, Frieden joined forces with other disabled students and worked to make public business and facilities more accessible to those with disabilities. His work would eventually lead to the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which aimed to do for those with disabilities what the Civil Rights Act did for minorities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 considers a person with a disability to be someone with a condition that interferes with basic life activity, such as seeing, walking, talking, learning or hearing.

What are the different parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990?

The first part of the ADA (Title I), covering employment, was crafted to give people with disabilities the same job opportunities and benefits as people without disabilities. According to this part of the law, organizations must offer reasonable accommodations to qualified employees or job applicants. A “reasonable accommodation” is any assistance or modifications made by the employer to aid an employee in their job functions without causing “undue hardship” on itself. All government agencies and employers with 15 or more employees are covered by this part of the ADA.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 covers governmental services and forbids discrimination based on a disability in those programs. This means that all state and federal services must be accessible to everyone. This second part of the ADA goes on to describe the modification an agency can make to its services and policies in moving to comply with the law.

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 deals with accessibility of facilities to those with a disability. This part of the law prevents private locations accessible to the greater community from discriminating against individuals with impairments. Examples of facilities governed under Title III include hotels, dining establishments, retail stores, doctor’s offices, private colleges, day care facilities, sports stadiums and movie theaters.

Title III also describes the minimum standards for accessibility and also calls for public places to remove limitations for those with disabilities. The law also directs organizations to make “reasonable changes” when helping people with impairments. Additionally, it mandates that facilities take measures to communicate effectively with members of the public who may have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities.

Title IV of the law covers phone and Internet communications. The law mandates a nationwide telecommunications system that allows people with hearing and speech disabilities to have access to communications on the same level as those without hearing or speech impairments. Title IV also requires closed captioning of federally-funded announcements.

The fifth and final part of the law outlines a range of other miscellaneous provisions that pertain to discrimination on disability. A few of these provisions include the right for individuals to sue any state agencies due to violations of the ADA, protection of the individual that sues an entity for violating the ADA, prohibition of “reverse discrimination” claims, and a list of impairment conditions that do not qualify as a disability under the ADA.

Issues for Employers

Employers may be concerned that the ADA requires a quota or other mandate for them to hire people with disabilities. However, this assumption is wrong. When an employer is considering whether to hire someone with a disability, that person first and foremost should be qualified to fill the open position.

If that person can perform the primary duties of a job, but may need accommodations, such as wheelchair access, the need for accommodations should not dissuade a company from hiring that person. Companies can avoid any grey areas surrounding this part of the ADA by laying out all the basic responsibilities of a job in advance of any interview process.

Employers may also be concerned about the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as it relates to employees’ compensation claims. It should be noted that a work-related injury may not cause a person to be classified as disabled under the ADA. For example, if a person slips or falls and breaks their forearm, they may not be considered disabled unless the injury inhibits their primary job functions.

Companies cannot ask a candidate for their workers’ compensation history before the conditional offer of a job is made. Even after conditional offers have been made, a company cannot mandate a possible employee to have a medical examination unless all applicants being considered are asked to have an examination. Also, a company can’t base an employment decision on the belief that an applicant is at greater risk of a workplace injury and may cause workers’ compensation costs in the future. However, a company may turn down an applicant, or may fire an individual who can’t currently do their job without posing a substantial risk to the health or safety of themselves or others.

A Final Word

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was written and intended to protect those with legitimate disabilities. Employers should approach the law with the respect that it deserves and seek consultation when a sensitive or complex situation arises.


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