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What is the ADA?

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  • Written By: Kathy Hawkins
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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The Americans with Disabilities act, or ADA, is a congressional bill that was signed into law by the first President Bush in 1990. The ADA is designed to protect people with physical or mental disabilities from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and all other public services. Under the ADA, a disability is characterized as being "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity."

One of the ADA's statements is that a place of employment must not discriminate against a qualified candidate on the basis of a disability. This rule applies to all facets of employment, including job applicants, advancement, dismissal, and workers' compensation, among others. Employers must make all reasonable efforts to provide suitable support systems for people who have disabilities.

The ADA also includes sections dedicated to public services and public accommodations, which include public transportation such as buses or trains, and commercial businesses such as salons or bookstores. The ADA states that any public place must allow a person with a disability to access and enjoy the benefits of the services provided. In many cases, lawsuits are brought under this title, because a business is not "accessible" — that is, it does not provide suitable means of access for people with physical disabilities, such as people in wheelchairs.

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Buildings that are registered as historic places are generally not required to comply with the standards of the ADA, however. Such establishments must do what they can to make the building accessible, but only to the extent that the original character of the building is not damaged in any way.

The final section of the ADA deals with telecommunications, and states that appropriate communication technologies must be available for people with disabilities, particularly those who have hearing or speech impairments. Because of this section of the ADA, teletypewriters and other machines for people with disabilities were installed in public spaces throughout the United States in the early 1990s.

Since its establishment, the ADA has received criticism from many groups and individuals for a variety of reasons. Some people say that conditions such as depression should not be covered under the ADA, and do not want to grant accommodations for such conditions. Others worry that the ADA has increased the chances for litigation due to unintended discrimination. The most complaints, however, probably come from people with disabilities themselves, who argue that the ADA has done little to enforce the construction of accessible buildings. Generally, though, the ADA has helped significantly to make businesses and public spaces in the United States more accessible for people with disabilities.

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