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.
- Title I concerns employment, and gives regulatory and enforcement authority to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
- Title II concerns State and Local Governments with regulatory and enforcement authority given to the federal Department of Justice (DOJ). Title II also covers public transportation, with regulatory and enforcement authority given to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), as well as health care services such as state healthcare programs and municipal hospitals, with regulatory and enforcement authority given to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- Title III concerns “public accommodations” (i.e. privately owned retail and service establishments), with regulatory and enforcement primarily given to the federal DOJ.
- Title IV concerns Telecommunications Relay Services with regulatory and enforcement authority given to the Federal Communications Commission.
- Title V contains miscellaneous but important provisions relating to disability nondiscrimination, such as protection from retaliation for people with disabilities who seek to enforce their rights under the ADA.
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.