The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA represents a historic milestone, as it is the first comprehensive civil rights law focused on persons with disabilities. Congress amended the law in September 2008 to further clarify its definition of disability with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.
The ADA breaks down into multiple Titles but the purpose of the ADA is to protect the rights of over 54 million Americans with disabilities. It opens the doors to participation in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation by prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, their families, and friends.
As it was amended, the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with a disability. Specifically, the ADA protects three categories of individuals:
- Individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
- Individuals who have a record of such impairment.
- Individuals who are regarded as having an impairment.
Congress intended the ADA’s definition of disability to be constructed broadly but the ADA does not recognize simple physical characteristics, common personality traits, or environmental, cultural or economic disadvantages as disabilities. In addition, the ADA excludes coverage for individuals who currently use illegal drugs, certain sexual disorders and preferences, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, and pyromania.
The ADA is a federal statute enforceable by several federal agencies and has effects on Americans with Disabilities, private employers, businesses operated for the benefit of the public, all state, and local government agencies, public and private transportation providers, and anyone building, designing, or remodeling construction projects.
The ADA is not affirmative action. The ADA provides equal access and opportunity for individuals with disabilities, not special treatment or benefits. The ADA is also not an entitlement program. The ADA is a civil rights law and does not provide money or benefits. Moreover, the ADA does not cover access to private residential housing like private homes, condos, townhomes, mobile home units, and apartment units.