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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)


The legislation enacted in July 1990 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities in jobs, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications, as well as other state services. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represents a significant addition to the scope of protections defined by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was not intended to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. It also augments other laws that address issues of disability and access to education and employment opportunities, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act (RA) of 1973. While the ADA covers many areas of possible discrimination (including schools), it is used primarily to protect individuals with disabilities on the job. The IDEA and RA offer more specific protections and regulations in regard to schools and colleges. On the job, employers are required to provide fair opportunities to individuals with disabilities if they are “otherwise qualified” for a position. For example, a person who is partly blind cannot perform the essential functions of an airline pilot. A person in a wheelchair, however, may be able to perform the essential functions of a bookkeeper and therefore should not be discriminated against based on physical limitations. Employers and schools may also be required to provide accessibility to buildings for those who have physical disabilities. Employers with more than 15 employees also may be required to provide accommodations for employees with specific needs based on their disability, such as equipment or more frequent breaks. “Disability” is an important term from a legal perspective, as it distinguishes those with temporary limitations or less severe limitations from those for whom a physical or mental impairment limits major life activities. For people with LEARNING DISABILITY, the ADA provides legislative support for accommodations within both educational and workplace settings. Unlike the federal legislation governing public education for children with learning disabilities, the ADA places a much greater burden of responsibility on the person seeking services or accommodations. The ADA also clearly protects educational institutions and employers from being required to provide accommodations that place unreasonable burdens or that represent significant lowering of educational standards. At the same time, the ADA also provides broad protection for children with learning disabilities in a wide variety of contexts.