The Basic Requirements Of The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

On July 26, 2005, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrated its 15th birthday. Since it’s inception, it has been referred to as the most comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. So it never hurts to take a little refresher course on ADA requirements.

The ADA, which originally took effect July 26, 1992 for employers with 25 or more employees (the threshold later dropped to include employers with 15 or more employees), prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.


Definition Of A Disability

As defined by the ADA, an individual with a disability 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; or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

Reasonable Accommodation

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:

  • making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to, and usable by, persons with disabilities;
  • job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position; or
  • acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

Disability Discrimination

While it is true that the Americans with Disabilities Act has undergone modifications and expansions in its 15 years, one thing has certainly remained the same. Employers continue to get called on the ADA legal carpet for discriminating against employees based on their disabilities. Here are a few recent examples.

  1. A blind job applicant won a whopping $8 million when he sued a prospective employer under the ADA for failing to accommodate him during the application process by refusing to install adaptive software that would have accommodated him on the job. (EEOC v. EchoStar Communications Corp., D.C. CO, No. 02-CV-00581, 2005)
  2. After a worker with cerebral palsy was removed from his job working in the pharmacy of a store and was reassigned to collecting shopping carts in the parking lot, he quit, sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and won 7.5 million disability discrimination dollars. Note: Reluctantly, a court has since reduced the award to $2.8 million to keep in line with the ADA’s punitive damages cap. (Brady v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., E.D.NY, No. 03-CV-3834, 2005)
  3. A court awarded $2.5 million in damages to an advertising executive with multiple sclerosis who claimed that she had been ridiculed by her co-workers and managers for walking with a cane and was later terminated because her employer perceived her as being disabled. (Jordan v. Bates Advertising Holdings, Inc., NY Sup. Ct., No. 118785/99, 2005)

Basic Requirements

To avoid similar legal run-ins with the Americans with Disabilities Act, keep the following basic requirements in mind. Employees with disabilities must:

  • have an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and to work in jobs for which they are qualified;
  • have an equal opportunity to be promoted once they are working;
  • have equal access to benefits and privileges of employment that are offered to other employees, such as employer-provided health insurance or training; and
  • must not be harassed because of their disability.