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Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was enacted into law on July 26, 1990, and completely effective on July 26, 1994. The ADA has been described as the most significant human rights legislation to be enacted by the federal government in at least the past 20 years. The ADA is organized into five sections covering various topics related to Americans with disabilities.

The first section of the new law covers the employment of Americans with disabilities. The law provides that an employer shall not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of that individual's disability with respect to application procedures, hiring, firing, and other terms, conditions and privileges of employment. The ADA defines the term "qualified individual with a disability" as an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position the individual holds or desires despite having a disability. Under the ADA, an employer may be required to make a reasonable accommodation to the individual's disability which may include making facilities readily accessible and usable, job restructuring, and modifying or assuring new equipment.

However, an employer is not required to provide any accommodations if doing so would result in the imposition of undue hardship, or significant difficulty or expense, upon the employer. Even though an employer may be compelled to accommodate an individual's disability, the individual must still be able to perform the essential functions, or fundamental tasks, of a job in order to be considered qualified.

The ADA is applicable to employers with 15 or more employees.

The second section of the ADA extends the non-discrimination policy to cover all state and local government entities. Basically the public services section of the ADA requires that state and local governments make all programs, services and activities including employment, equally available and accessible to individuals with disabilities.

This section also requires that public and private transportation providers - bus, train, rail and trolley companies and authorities - make their vehicles and facilities accessible to people with disabilities. The public services section of the law also requires a public entity that operates a fixed route system to provide alternate services for people with disabilities who cannot access buses or trains unless providing such service would create an undue financial burden.

The third section of the new law requires that any person who owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation make available to people with disabilities the full and equal opportunity to enjoy the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations they provide. This includes public transportation stations provided by private businesses. This section of the law contains an extensive list of private entities that are considered public accommodations for purposes of the new law. The only significant exceptions are for churches and private clubs.

The public accommodation section of the Act may require private entities to take a number of steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities, such as providing auxiliary aids or services; making reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures; removing architectural and communication barriers; and designing facilities that are readily accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The fourth section of the law requires telephone companies to make available services and devices that allow the hearing and speech-impaired to communicate over the telephone. These services must be functionally equivalent to those provided to hearing individuals.

The final section of the ADA, titled Miscellaneous Provisions, includes a wide range of provisions on various topics such as a prohibition against coercion of, or retaliation against, an individual who invokes rights under the Act. This section also covers the availability of attorney's fees to a prevailing party in proceedings to enforce the law and the relationship of the law to other state and federal laws.

Information on the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act can be obtained by contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1801 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20507 or by telephone at 202/663-4900. Information on other portions of the Act can be obtained from the United States Department of Justice, P.O. Box 66118, Washington, DC 20035-6118 or by telephone at 202/514-0301 (for hearing-impaired (TDD) call (202/514-0381).  3/11

If you need to consult with an attorney about discrimination based on a disability, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service.