The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, is a comprehensive civil rights statute intended to eliminate a broad spectrum of discrimination against disabled individuals. Most employers are well aware that the ADA requires them to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities – provided of course that the accommodation would not pose an undue hardship. However, the ADA is not limited to employment (Title I). It also prohibits disability discrimination in State and local government (Title II); public accommodations (Title III); transportation (Title II & Title III); and telecommunications (Title IV).
In other words, there is a risk of violating the ADA in areas other than employment if you fall into any of these additional categories:
Public entities. Title II applies to public entities (State, county, municipal, and local governments) and requires them to make their programs, services, and activities available to individuals with disabilities. This includes access to public education, recreation, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings. Public entities must also follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of buildings. Public entities are not required to make structural changes in existing facilities where other methods are effective in providing meaningful access to its programs and services. Public entities also do not necessarily have to make each of its existing facilities accessible to and usable by disabled individuals. Additionally, public entities are not required to take action that would destroy the historic significance of a property or result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of a service, program, or activity. Therefore, the date of a buildings construction is often key in determining whether it is compliant with the ADA given that buildings constructed before 1992 are considered “existing” facilities.
Public accommodations. Title III applies to public accommodations, which include private entities that own, lease, or operate facilities such as retail stores, hotels, restaurants, private schools, movie theaters, doctors’ offices, zoos, funeral homes, daycare centers, sports stadiums, and fitness clubs. Title III also applies to commercial facilities and private entities that offer certain examinations and courses related to educational and occupational certification. Public accommodations, like public entities, must follow architectural standards in the new construction and alterations of facilities. Businesses must also remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the entity’s resources. Public accommodations are not required to provide personal devices such as wheelchairs, individually prescribed devices such as prescription eyeglasses, or services of a personal nature such as assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing.
Transportation. Public transportation offered by State and local governments (municipal train and bus services, etc.) is covered by Title II of the ADA. Generally, public transportation must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles and public entities must make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Transportation services offered by private companies (taxicabs, intercity bus companies, hotel shuttle services, etc.) are covered by Title III.
Telecommunications. Title IV applies to common carriers such as telephone companies, requiring them to establish telecommunications relay services (TRS) and to provide closed captioning of federally funded public-service announcements.
The Department of Justice is charged with enforcing Titles II and III of the ADA. However, unlike employment discrimination claims, individuals may bring a private lawsuit against a public entity or public accommodation without first obtaining a “right to sue” letter. While Title I is limited to employers with 15 or more employees, there are no size requirements for public entities or public accommodations under Titles II and III. Individuals who successfully bring suit under the ADA are entitled to recover their legal fees, notwithstanding that they may not recover money damages.