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10 Things You Need to Know about the ADA

1. ADA Background. This year marks the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26, 1990, this landmark legislation was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities and guarantees equal opportunity in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications. Visit ArchiveADA for more historical information.

2. Definition of Disability. The ADA, as amended, defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. What is a major life activity? In general, these activities include, but are 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.

3. Reasonable Accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a key nondiscrimination requirement of the ADA. It is defined as any modification or adjustment to a job or work environment that will enable a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodations assure that a qualified individual with a disability has the same rights and privileges as those without disabilities. For more information, visit the Job Accommodation Network at

4. Filing a Complaint. ADA enforcement is a complaint driven process. Many people are surprised to learn that government officials do not make visits to employers, state and local agencies or businesses to see if they are ADA compliant. However, once someone has filed a formal complaint, various government agencies are responsible for conducting an investigation and taking legal action, if appropriate. If you feel that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, the following resources may be helpful:  
  • Get answers to questions about the ADA by calling the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TTY: 800-514-0383).
  • Visit the National Disability Rights Network website to learn about legal assistance in your state, which is offered by federally-mandated Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Programs.
  • File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development if you feel you are the victim of housing discrimination.
  • Find out how to file a charge of employment discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
5. ADA Materials and Publications. DOJ offers free materials and publications about the ADA, including technical assistance manuals, a Tax Incentives for Businesses fact sheet and other helpful information. To order publications, contact the toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TTY: 800-514-0383).

6. DBTACs. Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) provide trainings, materials, information and technical assistance on the ADA and accessible information technology to people in 10 different regions throughout the United States. In addition, DBTACs promote public awareness of the ADA. To contact your regional DBTAC, call 1-800-949-4232 or visit the ADA National Network.

7. Service Animals. Since March 15, 2011, only dogs that are specially trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities are recognized as service animals under titles II and III of the ADA. Tasks performed by service dogs may include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, reminding people with a mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or performing other duties. The work or task a dog has been trained to do must be directly related to the person’s disability. For additional guidance, visit the DOJ Civil Rights Division website.

8. Voting. Under the ADA, polling places nationwide are required to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. When an accessible location is not available, an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election must be offered. States are also required to make registration and voting aids available to voters with disabilities and older adults. For example, providing telecommunications devices to people who are deaf. Get a Checklist for Polling Places from

9. Medical Care. Prior to the ADA, health care facilities were not considered to be places of public accommodation and health care professionals had no legal obligation to provide care and could refuse patients with disabilities. Today, medical care providers are required to offer accessible health care facilities and to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures for individuals with disabilities. Read Access to Medical Care for Individuals with Mobility Disabilities to learn more.

10. offers many resources about the ADA, including those listed in this newsletter. The site’s Civil Rights section also features information about other laws including the Fair Housing Act; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act; Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act; and Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act. Stay connected to through Facebook, Twitter and Disability.Blog.

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