The Americans with Disabilities Act became an official civil rights law in 1990.

This law prohibits the following:

  1. Discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life (i.e., jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public).
  2. The law is comparable to the same rights given to all individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion.
  3. The law guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportations, state and government services, and telecommunications.

As of 2009, however, the ADAAA (American with Disabilities Act Amendments Act) was signed into law that made a number of significant changes to the definition of the word, ‘disability.’ The amendments to the law made changes to the definition of the term, ‘disability’ by broadening and clarifying its definition. Because of this, more people are now protected by the law and with it, came the intention of striking a balance between employer and employee interests.

Under this act, employers must make reasonable accommodations that enable employees with disabilities to enjoy equal benefits of employment. As an employer, reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits a qualified applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, to perform the essential functions of a job, or to enjoy benefits and privileges of employment equal to those enjoyed by employees without disabilities.

These may include:

  1. Job restructuring 
  2. Providing a reader/interpreter 
  3. Reassignment to a new position 
  4. Modifying equipment/devices 
  5. Modifying examinations/training materials/policies  

These are just examples, of course, but generally speaking, the individual with a disability will make their needs clear. If the accommodation is not apparent, as an employer you must make a reasonable effort to identify one.

It is appropriate to ask the applicant about their ability to perform the functions of the job, but it is unlawful to ask the applicant whether he or she is disabled, about the nature or severity of the disability, or to require that the applicant take a medical examination before making the job offer.

The ADA protects the rights of employers as well. If you have several applicants that are qualified for the job, as an employer it is your decision to hire the most qualified applicant. You are not required to hire an applicant with a disability, but it is unlawful for you to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability based on the disability.

An employer’s obligation to provide reasonable accommodation only applies to known physical or mental limitations. This does not mean, however, that the individual must always inform you of the disability.

Altogether, to be protected under the ADA, an individual must have, have record of, or be regarded as having a substantial as opposed to minor impairment.

For example: 

If you have broke your arm on the job as a mechanic, for instance, this is a minor impairment. Yes, it does prevent you from performing your duties as an employee, but it is not a permanent ailment.

A substantial impairment is one that may significantly limit or restrict a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, performing manual tasks, walking, learning or working.

Questions? Visit the ADA website.