Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)

President Bush sits at a table on White House south lawn, flanked by disability rights advocates.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that critically extended Section 504’s disability nondiscrimination mandate to the private sector. The ADA reaches such entities as private employers (with 15 or more employees), retailers, service establishments, transportation companies, and telecommunication companies, regardless of whether they receive federal financial assistance. The law is organized in “titles” that each deal with specific topics.

Please note that while the different federal agencies noted above are given implementation and enforcement authority under the ADA, they do not generally have exclusive enforcement authority. That is, individuals with disabilities may choose to file an administrative complaint with the relevant federal agency when they have been discriminated against. With the exception of Title I in the area of employment, an individual with a disability has the right to file a private lawsuit in federal court without first going to the federal agency.

Please also note that before one can file a complaint or a lawsuit under the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined under the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not contain an exhaustive listing of all impairments that could be considered a disability, but the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 did incorporate a list of physiological conditions that, in the context of litigation, has helped some individuals with disabilities to move past the threshold stage of being considered qualified to invoke the law.