Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that ensures equal opportunity in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications for people with disabilities.
Is It For Me?
An individual with a disability under the ADA is a person who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Has a record of such an impairment, (this may qualify you if you have recovered from a mental illness)
- Or is regarded as having such an impairment
Major life activities are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty such as hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking, walking, breathing or performing manual tasks. You also must be able to do the job you want or were hired to do with or without reasonable accommodation. An individual with mental illness, epilepsy, paralysis, HIV infection, AIDS, a substantial hearing or visual impairment, mental retardation or a specific learning disability is covered, but an individual with a minor, non-chronic condition of short duration, such as a sprain, broken limb or the flu, generally would not be covered.
What Are My Rights?
The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, age and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
Employment Provisions of Title I
The employment provisions of Title I of the ADA prohibit discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and training. The provisions apply to recruitment, advertising, tenure, layoff, leave, fringe benefits and all other employment-related activities. Employers who have 15 or more employees are required to comply with Title I of the ADA.
You are a qualified individual with a disability if you have a legitimate skill, experience, education or other requirements of an employment position that you have or are looking for, and you can perform the “essential” functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.
Requiring the ability to perform "essential" functions assures that if you have a disability you will not be considered unqualified simply because of your inability to perform marginal or minor job functions. If you are qualified to perform essential job functions, except for limitations caused by your disability, the employer must consider whether you could perform these functions with a “reasonable accommodation”. If a written job description has been prepared in advance of advertising or interviewing applicants for a job, this will be considered as evidence, although not conclusive evidence, of the essential functions of the job.
“Reasonable accommodation” is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable you, if you have a disability, to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions. Reasonable accommodation also includes adjustments to assure you that as a qualified individual with a disability you have rights and privileges in employment equal to those of employees without disabilities. An employer is not required to lower production standards to make an accommodation. An employer generally is not obligated to provide personal use items such as eyeglasses or hearing aids.
For many it is harder to understand reasonable accommodations for people with psychiatric disabilities than for persons with other disabilities. It is sometimes easier to identify the changes that will help someone with a physical or visible disability, such as raising the height of a desk for someone who uses a wheelchair or providing written information in large print for someone with visual problems. However, many people are unaware of the types of accommodations that work for people with mental illness, which is not a visible condition.
Studies on the most frequently used accommodations for people with psychiatric disabilities include the following:
Job coach assistance in hiring
- Arranging the interview
- Help in completing job applications
- Help in the interview
Job coach support on the job
- Being on site to provide support or training in job tasks
- Changes in the start or end of the workday hours
- Part-time hours
- More frequent breaks
- Sick leave for mental health reasons
Changes in supervision
- Providing extra supervision hours
- Involving a job coach in supervision meetings
- Modifying the way feedback and instructions are given
Changes in training
- Allowing extra time to learn job tasks
- Assistance in orientation
Modified job duties
- Exchanging or deleting minor job duties
Not all of these accommodations will work for everyone; each situation should be taken on an individual basis. It is also important to know that many people with psychiatric disabilities may not need accommodations of any kind.
How Do I Really Know If I Am Being Discriminated Against?
Has an employer asked you about your mental health before making you a job offer?
Do you suspect your employer is using your psychiatric disability as an excuse to discriminate against you such as denying you a deserved promotion, for example, or refusing you the training you need to advance?
Has your request for reasonable accommodation been turned down?
If your answer is yes to any of these questions and you've disclosed your disability, tried to negotiate with your supervisor, discussed your needs and problems with senior management, and you're still facing discrimination at the office, it may be time to file a formal complaint.
Where Can I Go or Who Can I Contact To Make a Complaint?
To file a complaint under Title I of the ADA, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/howtofil.html (EEOC) within 180 days of the discrimination, or within 300 days if you file in a designated state or local fair employment practice agency. If the EEOC determines you have been discriminated against, it will send you a "right to sue" letter allowing you to file a lawsuit in federal court. The EEOC locations are:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
New York District Office
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 1004
by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The EEOC national headquarters are at:
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20507
Toll Free: 800-669-4000
Publication and information on EEOC-enforced laws may be obtained by calling:
800-800-3302 (TTY - teletypewriter)
For information on how to accommodate a specific individual with a disability, contact the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) at:
or at their web site http://www.jan.wvu.edu
What Will Happen If I Prove Discrimination?
The court could mandate certain remedies including hiring, reinstatement, promotion, back pay, front pay, restored benefits, reasonable accommodation, attorneys' fees, expert witness fees and court costs. Compensatory and punitive damages also may be available to you in cases of intentional discrimination or where an employer fails to make a good faith effort to provide you with a reasonable accommodation.
As a Person With Disabilities, Are There Other Areas of the ADA That Protect My Rights?
ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities and Transportation
If your disability substantially limits your ability to learn, work, speak, write, walk, see or hear, you are also protected under Title II. This Title covers all public agencies regardless of whether they receive federal assistance. This Title guarantees access to all programs, services and activities provided by a public agency, including public education, employment, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting and town meetings. State and local government-funded colleges and universities and other post-secondary educational programs must not discriminate under Title II.
Architectural standards must be followed for new construction. Alteration of existing buildings or relocation of services is required, as well as reasonable modifications to policies and procedures to provide access to programs and services, except those that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. This Title also covers public transportation systems; they are required to be made accessible to all people with disabilities.
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of the state and local government activities of Title II of the ADA. Your complaint must be filed within 180 days of the date of the discrimination. You can also bring a private lawsuit to Federal court without a right “to sue” letter. For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice at:
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Disability Right Section - NYAV
Washington, DC 20530
or at their web site http://www.ada.gov.
Complaints regarding public transportation should be directed to the Federal Transit Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation at 888-446-4511.
ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
Title III prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by private entities and nonprofit service providers operating public accommodations. This includes privately operated entities that offer licenses and exams, private schools and colleges, banks, restaurants, theaters, hotels, private transportation, supermarkets, shopping malls, museums, health clubs and other recreational facilities, sports arenas, doctors, lawyers, insurance offices and other commercial facilities. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt.
Public accommodations must not exclude, segregate or treat people with disabilities unequally. This includes compliance with architectural standards providing physical access as well as reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures that affect access for people with disabilities. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of public accommodations of Title III of the ADA. Please see Title II enforcement for the addresses and phone numbers of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice above.
ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services
Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs), which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs), and callers who use voice telephones to communicate with each other through a third party communications assistant. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum standards for TRS services. Title IV also requires closed captioning of Federally-funded public service announcements. For more information about TRS, contact the FCC at:
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554
888-835-5322 (TTY - teletypewriter)
or at their web site http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/ which is the Disabilities Rights Office (DRO) home page at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the World Wide Web.