The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is a law that was enacted for the purpose of ensuring that those with disabilities have the same opportunities to access all areas of public life as those without disabilities. The act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by making it unlawful to do so.
When Was the ADA Enacted, and What Did It Do?
Signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George W. Bush, the Americans with Disabilities Act was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their national origin, sex, religion, color, or race.
The act is also based on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and greatly expanded upon it. Section 504 made discrimination against disabled persons unlawful, but only in terms of accessing activities and programs at the federal level.
The ADA, however, makes discrimination against people with a wide range of disabilities unlawful under the federal title and also under the state and local government, workplace, commerical and public entities, facilities and areas, and telecommunications products, and services titles. As well, the act provides:
- Information about the agencies tasked with enforcement of the ADA under each title
- Guidelines that businesses can follow to achieve compliance with the act
- Information about the facilities and buildings that are and are not exempt from ADA regulations
- Information about specific measurements for ADA compliance with regard to doorways, railings, pathways, and other items
- Guidance on filing a complaint under a title of the ADA
- Guidance on products that facilitate access by disabled persons
- Information regarding ADA requirements for new and existing construction
The act applies to all private businesses having 15 or more employees. It also provides a framework for ensuring that those with disabilities feel empowered and included.
Who Does the ADA Benefit?
The ADA benefits any person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits their ability to engage in major life activities. These activities include walking, reading, or hearing to qualify as a protected disability under the act.
Some of the many disabilities considered to be eligible and therefore protected by the ADA include:
- Heart disease
- Muscular dystrophy
- Learning disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Blindness and other visual impairments
- Deafness and other hearing impairments
In addition to those with disabilities, the ADA also benefits employers and business owners. It does this by revealing the barriers those with disabilities face when attempting to access employment, programs, services, and public transportation. The act also provides important information about what those with disabilities need in order to access places of employment, programs, services, and transportation safely and enjoyably.
The Americans with Disabilities Act also protects employers and business owners. It does so by requiring them to make accommodations for those with protected disabilities under the act, but only if those accommodations are reasonable and will not cause the employer or business owner to experience undue hardship as a result of making them.
Finally, the ADA protects disabled persons by providing information to help them file a complaint under each title of the act. For example, if a person feels they have been discriminated against by their employer, their complaint must be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title I.
A disabled person wishing to file a discrimination complaint against a public, state, or local government entity can do so with the Department of Justice, which enforces Title II. Title III of the act is also enforced by the Department of Justice, and it accepts discrimination complaints for any disabled person who experiences discrimination by a public accommodation or service.
Those disabled persons who wish to file a discrimination complaint against a telecommunications or internet company must contact the Federal Communications Commission, which is the entity resposible for enforcement under Title IV of the ADA.
How Businesses Can Achieve ADA Compliance
The ADA offers many details with regard to what businesses must do in order to achieve and maintain ADA compliance.
- For example, those with visual and hearing disabilities can be accommodated by installing products which communicate information via light, sound and color, as well as products that help to enhance their stability and safety.
- Information can also be effectively communicated through tactile products, such as Braille. Detectable warning systems are other tactile products that can offer significant benefits to persons with a wide range of disabilities.
- Tactile panels, radius tactile systems, and graphic tiles can assist visually impaired individuals, those in wheelchairs, and many others by communicating areas of caution, changing surfaces, entrances, and exits.
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