10 Things You May Not Know about the ADA
- A New Perspective on Disability Facts and Figures. In preparation for the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July, the U.S. Census Bureau released its collection of the most recent data pertaining to Americans with disabilities. The numbers are striking. Approximately 57 million Americans have a disability. Since this figure may be difficult to comprehend, let’s take a look at some facts for comparison: There are more people with disabilities living in America than the entire population of Canada or the Caribbean. The number of Americans with vision impairments is comparable to the entire population of Switzerland, and there are more Americans with hearing impairments than in all of Denmark, Paraguay or Hong Kong. If you take the population of Ireland and cut it in half, that’s roughly the number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s or other neurocognitive disorders. Additionally, more Americans with disabilities require the assistance of others to perform basic activities of daily living than the entire population of Greece.
- Breaking Down the ADA. The ADA of 1990, including its Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), covers five different areas:
- Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to treat qualified individuals with disabilities equally in all stages of employment. From the hiring process to full employment, this includes compensation, benefits, trainings, promotions and other aspects, such as offering reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. This section also restricts hiring managers from asking certain questions about an applicant’s disability during the hiring process or retaliating against someone for opposing discriminatory employment practices.
- Title II prohibits public entities like state or local government agencies from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. All programs and services, such as public transportation, recreational activities, courts and town meetings, should be available to people with disabilities. In addition, state and local government buildings must be accessible, and accommodations should be available to communicate effectively with those who have vision, speech or hearing disabilities.
- Title III requires public accommodations and commercial facilities to offer equal access and treatment, effective communication and removal of existing barriers for people with disabilities. Examples of such facilities include restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters and recreational facilities. Any altered or newly constructed buildings must follow architectural and design standards to ensure accessibility. Additionally, classes and examinations for professional, educational or trade-related purposes, licensing and certifications should be accessible to people with disabilities or alternative arrangements must be offered.
- Under Title IV, telecommunications companies must establish telecommunications relay services for callers with hearing and speech disabilities.
- Title V includes various provisions that are not necessarily covered by other titles, but have been used to clarify the application of the law. For example, this section notes that the ADA does not invalidate or override any other federal, state or local laws that provide equal or greater protections for people with disabilities. It also defines conditions that are not covered under the term “disability,” as defined by the ADA.
- Preserving Our History. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This quote, spoken by philosopher George Santayana, reflects the missions of two separate projects: the ADA Legacy Project and the Disability Visibility Project. The ADA Legacy Project has a threefold mission: to preserve the history of the disability rights movement, celebrate the impact of legislation like the ADA and educate the public on improving inclusion and equal rights for those with disabilities. On the other hand, the aim of the Disability Visibility Project is to record the stories of those in the disability community, in partnership with StoryCorps. You can participate in the project until July 2015 by attending a recording session in the San Francisco Bay area, Chicago, Atlanta or one of the Mobile Tour locations. All stories will be archived by The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. You can also visit adalegacy.com to find ADA events or programs near you and prepare for the 25th anniversary of the ADA next year. There’s even a countdown calendar!
- Job Accommodations enable people with disabilities to perform essential job functions, be productive and accomplish work tasks with greater ease and independence. Examples include modifications such as ergonomic desk chairs, reserved parking, flexible schedules, telecommuting, alternate workstations and periodic rest, food or bathroom breaks. According to the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free source of expert one-on-one guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues, nearly 60 percent of the accommodations needed by workers with disabilities cost absolutely nothing, and only 36 percent of employers incurred a one-time cost of roughly $500. JAN’s publication, the Employees’ Practical Guide to Requesting and Negotiating Reasonable Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) summarizes the provisions of the ADA, common accommodation issues and JAN’s practical solutions for resolving them. For additional guidance on reasonable accommodations and enforcement, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.
- The Rights of Pregnant Workers are generally protected by three laws: the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Although pregnancy is not considered a disability under the ADAAA, pregnancy-related impairments, such as gestational diabetes, severe nausea, sciatica or preeclampsia, may be recognized as a disability and could require an accommodation. Nursing mothers also have protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, 10 states and two cities have implemented laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy. These include Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Texas and West Virginia, in addition to New York City and Philadelphia. The Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund’s interactive map details pregnancy discrimination laws, as well as breastfeeding and leave rights, in each state. An article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “Accommodating Pregnant Employees,” highlights real-life situations and offers helpful suggestions on reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. If you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the EEOC’s Pregnancy Discrimination page, which provides contact and other useful information about how to file a complaint.
- Does Your School Pass with Flying Colors? Students with disabilities attending post-secondary schools are protected from discrimination by both the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In accordance with these laws, a school must make its programs, including its extracurricular activities, accessible to students with disabilities in an integrated setting. This includes providing accessible architecture, such as classrooms and housing, accessible transportation and auxiliary aids and services, if requested. Examples of auxiliary aids include interpreters, electronic readers and talking calculators. A student must disclose his or her disability to the school in order to receive these accommodations; however, if no accommodations are needed, then students are not required to disclose this information. When choosing a school, students with disabilities should consider factors such as the type of services already in place, accommodations they will require and the school’s overall attitude and reputation towards providing accommodations. Students should talk to their school’s ADA coordinator, Section 504 coordinator or Disability Services coordinator for more information or if problems arise.
- Get the 5-Star Accessibility Treatment. The ADA (i.e., Title III) requires all hotels and motels in the U.S. to make their facilities equally accessible to people with disabilities. There are two types of accessible guest rooms: those with “mobility” features and others with “communication” features. For guests with mobility impairments, roll-in showers and grab bars, lower counters and closet bars are a few of the structural features that should be offered. For guests who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, hotels and motels are required to provide rooms equipped with visual notification devices, telephone amplifiers and TDDs (Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf). According to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, accessible guest rooms must be dispersed among different classes of guest rooms and provide choices in the type of guest rooms, number of beds and other amenities comparable to those offered to other guests. A fact sheet from the Northwest ADA Center, “Accessibility for People with Disabilities at Hotels and Places of Lodging,” gives an overview of the different elements accessible hotels should include. For more tips on finding an accessible hotel room, read the post, “Disability Travel…a Dream or a Reality?,” on Disability.Blog.
- Accessible Public Transportation, such as buses, trains, subway systems, paratransit and ferries, makes it possible for people with disabilities to get to work, medical appointments and social activities in their communities. According to the U.S. Census 2009 American Community Survey, six percent of workers with disabilities age 16 and older use public transportation to commute to work. Common accessibility features include accessible parking, elevators, raised lettering and Braille signage, automatic doors, wheelchair turnstiles and lifts, public address systems, curb cuts, elevator status announcements and TDDs. Air travel is regulated under the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits domestic and foreign passenger airlines from discriminating against people with mental or physical disabilities. For additional information on transportation, read the May 2014 Disability Connection newsletter, “10 Things You Need to Know about Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” or read Easter Seals Project ACTION’s Glossary of Disability and Transit Terms.
- Technology and the ADA. Let’s first discuss the difference between accessible technology and assistive technology. Accessible technology can be used by people with a wide range of abilities, whether they use assistive technology or not. Assistive technology allows individuals with disabilities to perform tasks or functions they might otherwise be unable to do. For example, someone with low vision may not be able to read a book without a video camera magnifier. Under the ADA, governments and public entities must provide devices temporarily to help individuals with disabilities access their programs and services. For example, a movie theater should loan you an assistive listening device if you have a hearing disability. The Assistive Technology, Accommodations and the Americans with Disabilities Act brochure from the ILR School at Cornell University explains more fully how assistive technology is covered under the ADA. If you are interested in learning more, the ADA Online Learning Center offers webinars on a variety of technology-related topics.
- People You Should Know. The enactment of the ADA would not have happened without the hard work of these advocates and many others:
- Justin Dart, Jr., who is known as the “father” of the ADA, held public forums across the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico at his own expense to converse with people with disabilities and advocate for their civil rights.
- Dr. Fred Fay, who was a quadriplegic and prominent advocate for disability rights, won support for not only the ADA, but also the federal Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
- Patrisha Wright, who is known as “the General” of the ADA, was also a driving force behind the Handicapped Children’s Protection Act of 1986 and amendments to the Fair Housing Act, which prevented landlords from discriminating against people with disabilities.
- Robert Burgdorf, Jr., a professor at the University of the District of Columbia, wrote the original version of the ADA that was introduced in Congress.
- Lex Frieden, the former director of the National Council on the Handicapped (now the National Council on Disability), helped craft the language of the ADA. The concept of “reasonable accommodation” stemmed from his experience in college when his classes were moved to a building that could better accommodate his wheelchair.
- Tony Coelho, a former Congressman, was the primary author and sponsor of the ADA. He stated the law was urgently needed to prevent the discrimination against individuals with disabilities that he experienced as a person with epilepsy.
- Senator Tom Harkin, whose brother is deaf, authored, sponsored and introduced the ADA to the Senate. He considers it to be his signature legislative achievement and continues to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
- Evan Kemp, Jr., a former chairman of the EEOC, worked closely with President George H.W. Bush during the ADA deliberations. He even wrote several of the President’s speeches for disability-related events.
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