ADA Compliance

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a comprehensive civil rights law enacted in 1990 to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities across various facets of public life. The ADA is designed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

ADA compliance is the action taken by a covered entity to comply to the requirements set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The law is structured into five titles, each addressing different aspects of public and private life, including employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous provisions. We’ll explain each of these titles below.

Title I: Employment

Overview

Title I of the ADA focuses on employment, mandating that employers with 15 or more employees provide equal employment opportunities to qualified individuals with disabilities. This title covers all aspects of employment, from recruitment and hiring to promotions and training.

Key Requirements

  • Nondiscrimination: Employers must not discriminate against individuals with disabilities in any aspect of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
  • Reasonable Accommodation: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. These accommodations enable employees with disabilities to perform their job duties effectively.
  • Medical Examinations and Inquiries: Employers can ask about an applicant’s ability to perform job-related functions but cannot inquire about the existence, nature, or severity of a disability. Medical examinations can be required after a job offer is made, provided they are required of all entering employees in similar jobs.
  • Confidentiality: Employers must keep medical information confidential, with certain exceptions.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

  • Making existing facilities accessible to employees with disabilities
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, or reassignment to a vacant position
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices
  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies
  • Providing qualified readers or interpreters

Understanding Substantially Limits and Major Life Activities

The term “substantially limits” refers to the significant restriction of an individual’s ability to perform a major life activity compared to most people in the general population. Major life activities include functions such as walking, talking, seeing, hearing, or learning. This definition ensures that the ADA protects individuals with a wide range of physical and mental impairments.

Learn more about ADA Title I (and Title IV) on EEOC.gov.

Regulatory Agency

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The EEOC’s role is pivotal under Title I of the ADA, which focuses on employment practices.

Key Responsibilities

  • Investigating Complaints: The EEOC investigates charges of discrimination against employers covered by the ADA. If an investigation reveals that discrimination has occurred, the EEOC will attempt to settle the charge.
  • Enforcing Regulations: The EEOC issues regulations and guidelines to help employers comply with Title I of the ADA. These regulations cover various aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions, and accommodations.
  • Litigation: If a resolution cannot be reached through mediation or settlement, the EEOC has the authority to file lawsuits against employers on behalf of individuals or groups.
  • Education and Outreach: The EEOC provides education and technical assistance to employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities under the ADA.

Filing a Complaint

Individuals can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of discrimination. After receiving a “right-to-sue” letter from the EEOC, they may file a lawsuit in federal court.

Title II: Public Services

Overview

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by state and local government entities. This title ensures that people with disabilities have equal access to programs, services, and activities provided by public entities.

Key Requirements

  • Accessibility: State and local governments must ensure that their programs, services, and activities are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Effective Communication: Public entities must communicate effectively with individuals who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
  • Reasonable Modifications: Public entities must make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination unless it would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity.
  • Architectural Standards: New construction and alterations must comply with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Examples of Public Services

  • Public education
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Recreation
  • Healthcare
  • Social services
  • Courts
  • Voting
  • Town meetings

Understanding Reasonable Modifications and Effective Communication

Reasonable Modifications: Modifications might include altering the way a service is provided or changing a policy to accommodate an individual’s disability. For example, allowing a person with diabetes to carry snacks or permitting a service animal in a “no pets” area.

Effective Communication: This involves ensuring that individuals with disabilities can communicate as effectively as others. For example, providing sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf or providing written materials in large print or Braille for individuals who are blind.

New Web Rule

The DOJ recently published an update to regulation that requires web content and mobile apps to be conformant with WCAG 2.1 AA to be ADA compliant. Our ADA Title II website accessibility guide contains all of the most important information including who must be compliant, what content is covered, exceptions, and compliance deadlines.

We also have an ADA Title II resource center with information and resources to help public entities with compliance for the new web rule.

Learn more about ADA Title II at ADA.gov.

Regulatory Agency

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces federal laws and represents the United States in legal matters. The DOJ plays a critical role in enforcing Titles II and III of the ADA, which cover public services and public accommodations.

Key Responsibilities

  • Investigating Complaints: The DOJ investigates complaints of discrimination under Titles II and III. It ensures that state and local governments, as well as private businesses, comply with ADA standards.
  • Enforcing Regulations: The DOJ issues regulations and standards for accessibility under Titles II and III. These standards ensure that public entities and accommodations are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Litigation: The DOJ can file lawsuits against entities that fail to comply with the ADA. This includes seeking court orders to correct violations and, in some cases, seeking monetary damages for victims of discrimination.
  • Technical Assistance: The DOJ provides technical assistance and information to help entities understand and comply with the ADA. This includes guidance documents, training programs, and a toll-free ADA Information Line.

Filing a Complaint

Complaints of Title II violations can be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. Cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department of Justice, or the Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and found violations.

Title II: Public Transportation

Overview

The transportation provisions of Title II cover public transportation services such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g., subways, commuter rails, Amtrak). These provisions ensure that public transportation authorities do not discriminate against people with disabilities.

Key Requirements

  • Accessibility in New Vehicles: Public transportation authorities must comply with accessibility requirements for newly purchased vehicles.
  • Accessible Used Buses: Authorities must make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses.
  • Remanufactured Buses: Buses must be remanufactured in an accessible manner.
  • Paratransit Services: Public transportation providers must offer paratransit services where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Paratransit services cater to individuals who are unable to use regular transit systems independently due to a physical or mental impairment.

Understanding Paratransit Services

Paratransit is a specialized service that provides door-to-door transportation for individuals who cannot use the regular transit system due to their disabilities. This service ensures that people with disabilities can travel to work, medical appointments, or other essential destinations.

Regulatory Agency

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is the primary federal agency responsible for enforcing the transportation provisions of Title II of the ADA. Title II covers public transportation services provided by state and local governments, including city buses, public rail transit systems, and paratransit services.

Key Responsibilities

  • Regulating Accessibility: The DOT issues and enforces regulations to ensure that public transportation systems are accessible to individuals with disabilities. These regulations cover new vehicle purchases, the acquisition of used buses, and the remanufacturing of existing buses to meet accessibility standards.
  • Monitoring Compliance: The DOT monitors compliance with ADA requirements through inspections, audits, and investigations. It ensures that transportation providers adhere to standards for vehicle accessibility, facility accessibility, and the provision of paratransit services.
  • Enforcing Regulations: The DOT has the authority to take enforcement actions against transportation providers that fail to comply with ADA requirements. This includes initiating investigations, issuing fines, and requiring corrective actions.
  • Providing Technical Assistance: The DOT provides guidance and technical assistance to public transportation providers to help them understand and comply with ADA requirements. This includes offering training programs, issuing guidance documents, and maintaining a hotline for technical assistance.
  • Handling Complaints: The DOT processes complaints from individuals who believe they have experienced discrimination or accessibility issues with public transportation services. The DOT investigates these complaints and works to resolve them through mediation, settlement agreements, or enforcement actions.

Filing a Complaint

Questions and complaints about public transportation should be directed to the Office of Civil Rights, Federal Transit Administration.

Title III: Public Accommodations

Overview

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public accommodations operated by private entities. This includes businesses and nonprofit service providers that are open to the public, such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and theaters.

Key Requirements

  • Nondiscrimination: Public accommodations must not exclude, segregate, or treat individuals with disabilities unequally.
  • Architectural Standards: New and altered buildings must comply with ADA accessibility standards.
  • Barrier Removal: Existing barriers in buildings must be removed where it is readily achievable, meaning without much difficulty or expense.
  • Effective Communication: Public accommodations must communicate effectively with individuals who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
  • Reasonable Modifications: Policies, practices, and procedures must be modified to accommodate individuals with disabilities unless it would fundamentally alter the nature of the business.

Examples of Public Accommodations

  • An inn, hotel, motel, or other place of lodging, except for an establishment located within a building that contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and that is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as the residence of such proprietor
  • A restaurant, bar, or other establishment serving food or drink
  • A motion picture house, theater, concert hall, stadium, or other place of exhibition or entertainment
  • An auditorium, convention center, lecture hall, or other place of public gathering
  • A bakery, grocery store, clothing store, hardware store, shopping center, or other sales or rental establishment
  • A laundromat, dry-cleaner, bank, barber shop, beauty shop, travel service, shoe repair service, funeral parlor, gas station, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, hospital, or other service establishment
  • A terminal, depot, or other station used for specified public transportation
  • A museum, library, gallery, or other place of public display or collection
  • A park, zoo, amusement park, or other place of recreation
  • A nursery, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private school, or other place of education
  • A day care center, senior citizen center, homeless shelter, food bank, adoption agency, or other social service center establishment
  • A gymnasium, health spa, bowling alley, golf course, or other place of exercise or recreation

Understanding Architectural Barriers and Effective Communication

Architectural Barriers: These are physical obstacles that prevent people with disabilities from accessing facilities. Removing these barriers might involve installing ramps, widening doorways, or rearranging furniture to make pathways accessible.

Effective Communication: This ensures that businesses can serve all customers, including those with disabilities. Examples include providing a sign language interpreter for a deaf customer at a doctor’s office or offering large print menus at a restaurant.

Web Position

While the DOJ has not published a new web rule updating regulation under Title III, the DOJ has consistently taken the position that the ADA’s requirements apply to all the goods, services, privileges, or activities offered by public accommodations, including those offered on the web. The web guidance page published by the DOJ elaborates on this stance.

The DOJ’s position has led to an industry of litigation involving website accessibility. Read our ADA website compliance guide to find out about the law, lawsuits, WCAG, and other aspects to this industry.

Regulatory Agency

As with Title II, the DOJ oversees the regulation and enforcement of Title III.

Filing a Complaint

Complaints of Title III violations can be filed with the Department of Justice. Private lawsuits can also be filed without first filing a complaint with the Department.

Title IV: Telecommunications

Overview

Title IV of the ADA addresses telephone and television access for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires the provision of telecommunications relay services (TRS) and mandates closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.

Key Requirements

  • Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS): Telephone companies must provide TRS 24 hours a day, allowing individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with hearing individuals through a third-party communications assistant.
  • Closed Captioning: Federally funded public service announcements must include closed captioning.

Understanding Telecommunications Relay Services

Telecommunications Relay Services: TRS allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate with others over the phone. A communication assistant relays the conversation between the person using a TTY (text telephone) and the person using a standard voice telephone.

Regulatory Agency

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC’s role is essential under Title IV of the ADA, which focuses on telecommunications.

Key Responsibilities

  • Regulating Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS): The FCC oversees the provision of TRS, which allows individuals with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. The FCC ensures that TRS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Closed Captioning: The FCC enforces requirements for closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements, ensuring that television programming is accessible to individuals with hearing disabilities.
  • Enforcing Accessibility Standards: The FCC issues and enforces rules to ensure that telecommunications services and equipment are accessible to individuals with disabilities.
  • Consumer Assistance: The FCC provides information and assistance to consumers about their rights under Title IV of the ADA. This includes handling complaints and providing guidance on accessible communications.

Filing a Complaint

Complaints related to telecommunications can be directed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

Overview

Title V contains various provisions that apply to the ADA as a whole, including its relationship to other laws, state immunity, and its impact on insurance providers and benefits. It also includes provisions against retaliation and coercion and addresses the illegal use of drugs.

Key Provisions

  • State Immunity: States are not immune from ADA lawsuits.
  • Retaliation and Coercion: It is illegal to retaliate against individuals for asserting their rights under the ADA.
  • Illegal Use of Drugs: Individuals currently using illegal drugs are not protected by the ADA, but those who have successfully completed a rehabilitation program are protected.

Understanding Retaliation and Illegal Use of Drugs

Retaliation: Employers and other entities covered by the ADA cannot retaliate against individuals for exercising their rights under the law. This includes actions such as filing a complaint, participating in an investigation, or opposing discriminatory practices.

Illegal Use of Drugs: The ADA does not protect individuals who are currently using illegal drugs. However, individuals who have completed a supervised drug rehabilitation program and are no longer using drugs, or who are mistakenly regarded as using drugs, are protected.

Conclusion

The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law that ensures individuals with disabilities have equal access to various aspects of public life. By understanding and complying with the ADA’s requirements, employers, public entities, and private businesses can create inclusive environments that support the rights and opportunities of people with disabilities.