July 26, 2016 marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This article provides helpful information on this groundbreaking law that changed the lives of Americans with disabilities.
- Talkin’ ‘bout the ADA Generation.
- The ADA & Service Animals.
- Getting from Point A to Point D (& Back to Point A).
- What the ADA Means for Small Businesses.
- Protecting Your Right to Vote.
- How Do I Work & Care for a Family Member?
- A Bright IDEA for Education.
- Strengthening America’s Workforce through the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act.
- GINA Prevents Discrimination.
- Olmstead for Community Living.
Young people with disabilities are often called the “ADA Generation” because they were born or grew up after the ADA became a law. Laws such as the ADA exist thanks to the leadership of dedicated disability rights advocates, including Justin Dart, Jr., Ed Roberts and Judith Heumann. These individuals are positive role models that youth with disabilities should know about as they become the next generation of disability leaders. Justin Dart, Jr., called the “father of the ADA,” traveled around the U.S. gathering stories from people with disabilities about the discrimination they faced. These accounts directly impacted the creation of the ADA. Ed Roberts helped create the Independent Living Movement, formed the first Center for Independent Living and co-founded the World Institute on Disability with Judith Heumann. Heumann assisted with the passing of the ADA, served as the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and is now the State Department’s Special Advisor for International Disability Rights. Young people with disabilities who wish to follow in the footsteps of these leaders can start by reading these self-advocacy guides.
Many people with disabilities use service animals to help them with daily activities so they can live as independently as possible. The definition of a service animal is a dog that has been trained to assist a person with a disability in completing tasks that are directly related to their disability. This ADA National Network guide explains that emotional support, therapy, comfort or companion animals aren’t considered service animals and aren’t protected under the ADA. Service animals can be used in the workplace as a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Businesses and organizations that serve the public, such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores, can’t refuse to serve a customer with a service animal, and neither can taxi drivers. Under the Air Carrier Access Act, people with disabilities are legally permitted to travel with service animals. The Transportation Security Administration has information about security screening procedures for people with disabilities, including those using a service dog. It’s important that both travelers and transportation operators understand the rights of people traveling with a service animal.
Title II of the ADA protects people with disabilities against discrimination on all modes of public transportation services operated by state and local governments. In addition, the ADA applies to rail transit systems. The ADA doesn’t apply to air travel, which is instead covered under the Air Carrier Access Act. Under the ADA, the U.S. Department of Transportation provides paratransit services, which are door-to-door transportation services that eligible customers can use to travel within a specific area if they’re unable to use traditional “fixed-route” public transportation. The Amputee Coalition has a fact sheet about paratransit that includes information on eligibility requirements. Read the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center’s tips for using ADA paratransit services or the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund’s guide, “ADA Paratransit Eligibility: How to Make Your Case” to learn more. If you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your disability while using public transportation services, you can file a complaint with the Federal Transit Administration.
Small business owners may need help understanding how the ADA applies to them. The two areas of the law that primary affect small businesses are Title I, which includes protections for employees and jobseekers with disabilities, and Title III, which prohibits discrimination against customers with disabilities by private businesses of any size, commercial facilities and other “public accommodations.” This can include movie theaters, hotels, grocery stores and sports arenas. The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. The Job Accommodation Network has more information on reasonable accommodations, including average costs. Business owners can take an online course about how to be welcoming to customers with disabilities. Learn about ADA regulations related to service animals in places of business. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) offer detailed information about how the ADA applies to small businesses. For more information, read “Small Business and the ADA: Getting it Right.”
All Americans with disabilities should be able to vote independently and accessibly. The ADA is one of several laws protecting those rights. These laws help ensure polling place accessibility and the availability of alternative voting methods and voting aids for voters with disabilities. The recently updated “ADA Checklist for Polling Places” has information about making polling places accessible. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission offers resources for voters with disabilities, including helpful tips and a video about polling place accessibility. Learn about the American Association of People with Disabilities’ REV UP voting initiative. The Arc’s voting toolkit includes voting resources and a blog post about how guardianship impacts voting rights. For more information, visit DOJ’s voting section or contact your state’s voting commission or board of elections. Learn how to file a complaint if you feel your voting rights have been violated. Call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (687-8683) to report voting issues or concerns.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires applicable employers to allow their employees to take unpaid leave for family and medical reasons, while still keeping their job. Under FMLA, an employee can take leave for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period for the following reasons: a serious health condition; to care for a family member with a serious health condition; the birth and care of a newborn; or the adoption of a child or placement of a child from foster care with the employee. “Family” under FMLA includes your spouse, parents and children. Children older than 18 are also included under FMLA if they’re unable to take care of themselves and require assistance because of a disability. Qualification for leave also extends to military families when Service Members are on active duty. The National Partnership for Women and Families compiled this guide to help people understand their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. Read “The Employee’s Guide to the FMLA” to learn more about how FMLA works, how to determine if you’re eligible and the process for taking leave.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1975 to ensure that all children with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education. The IDEA provides services for infants and toddlers from birth to age 2 (part C) and children and youth ages 3 – 21 (part B). The act includes provisions for early intervention services, which help babies with disabilities or developmental delays get the supports they need to meet developmental milestones. If you’re concerned about your child’s development, contact your pediatrician for a developmental evaluation. Find early intervention services in your state. For school-age children, IDEA covers special education services, classroom accommodations and supports and school-to-work transition. Every student who receives special education services must have an individualized education program (IEP), which contains goals for the student and spells out the services that will be provided. These goals and services are decided by a team of educators, the parents and the child. Contact your local Parent Center for more information on the IDEA, special education services and the rights of parents of children with disabilities.
Two years ago this month, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) into law. WIOA helps modernize and streamline America’s public workforce system, and ensure that jobseekers, including people with disabilities, have access to employment, education and job training services. In June, the U.S. departments of Labor (DOL) and Education released final rules for implementing WIOA. DOL’s Employment and Training Administration offers guidance to help workforce development agencies, job centers and youth programs implement the law. Read this fact sheet or watch a video to learn more. WIOA also makes changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These changes ensure that federal contractors and subcontractors don’t discriminate against job applicants or employees with disabilities. DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs has resources, including a checklist and answers to frequently asked questions, to help federal contractors make sure their recruiting, hiring and employment practices comply with Section 503. Find a list of organizations and programs that can help federal contractors recruit and hire qualified workers with disabilities.
Some people have genetic differences that affect their chances of developing certain diseases or disorders. As scientists learn more about the profound impact these differences have on health, more and more tests are being developed to help prevent disease and treat patients. But what if your DNA was used to discriminate against you? The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), is a federal law put into place to prevent people from being treated unfairly because of their genetics. The law makes it illegal for health insurers and employers to refuse service or employment or otherwise discriminate against a person because of their genetic makeup. It’s important to note that GINA doesn’t cover life insurance, disability insurance and long-term care insurance. Before GINA came into effect, several states had passed laws against genetic discrimination, but those laws varied widely. Since GINA is a federal law, it sets a minimum standard of protection that must be met in all 50 states, but doesn’t weaken the protections provided by state laws.
Since the ADA was signed into law, there have been several legal cases regarding certain aspects of the law that have greatly impacted the lives of people with disabilities. One such case was Olmstead v. L.C., known as “Olmstead.” In that case, the Supreme Court of the United States found that the ADA prohibits the unnecessary segregation or institutionalization of people with disabilities. Olmstead requires states to ensure that people with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting possible, including home and community-based settings. The case was brought by two women from Georgia who were receiving services at state-run institutions, even though it had been determined that they could have just as easily gotten treatment in home or community-based settings. After a series of appeals, the Supreme Court issued their groundbreaking ruling in July 1999. Olmstead has moved federal, state and local authorities to expand community-based services for people with disabilities. If you or a loved one needs help moving from a nursing home into the community, contact your local Center for Independent Living. Learn how to file a complaint about violations of the ADA’s “integration mandate.”