uly 26th marks National Disability Independence Day and the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of legislation that stands as a symbol of progress, equality, and inclusivity for people with disabilities.
Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, the ADA has brought about significant positive changes in the lives of millions of individuals, promoting accessibility and breaking down barriers across various aspects of society.
Before the ADA, people with disabilities faced numerous challenges and discrimination. Basic rights, such as access to public spaces, transportation, education, and employment opportunities, were often denied or hindered by physical and social barriers. The ADA sought to rectify these discriminatory injustices and create a more accessible and inclusive nation.
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The ADA was inspired by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was passed in 1973. Section 504 guaranteed certain rights to people with disabilities, but it was limited in scope and only applied to the government sector. The ADA expanded on the protections of Section 504 and applied them to all public and private places open to the general public.
The ADA is divided into five titles, or sections:
- Title I: Employment
- Title II: Public services, programs, and activities of state and local governments
- Title III: Public accommodations and commercial facilities
- Title IV: Telecommunications
- Title V: Miscellaneous provisions, including provisions for enforcement and remedies
Who Must Be ADA Compliant?
The notion that the rules of the ADA only apply to large corporations is a common misconception. In actuality, the ADA applies to all businesses unless there are 15 or fewer employees. This means that the ADA affects a wide range of businesses, including:
- Places of entertainment like theaters, movie theaters, and concert halls
- Restaurants and eateries
- Small and medium businesses of all types
- Large enterprises
- Retail stores
- Local government offices, employment agencies, and labor unions
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Requirements of the ADA
The requirements of the ADA vary depending on the specific area of public life that is being considered. However, some of the most common requirements include:
Equal Access to Facilities & Services
For people with disabilities all areas of a business or organization’s facility must be accessible, including restrooms, entrances, and parking.
This includes providing wheelchair ramps, and accessible telephones.
Auxiliary Aids for People with Disabilities
Businesses and organizations are obligated to provide sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, and real-time captioning for employees who depend on them.
Modified Policies & Procedures
To accommodate people with disabilities, businesses and organizations need to offer flexible work hours, allow service animals, or make modifications to written materials.
“The ADA allows persons with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the world around them.”
Who Qualifies as “Disabled”?
Twenty-eight years after President Bush signed the original 1990 bill, his son, President George W. Bush made significant changes to the ADA, expanding the definition of “disability”.
The original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defined a person with a disability as someone who has a condition that “substantially limits major life activities.” However, courts interpreted this wording in a very conservative way, which meant that many ADA lawsuits were dismissed because the plaintiff was not considered to have a disability.
For example, in the 1999 case Sutton v. United Airlines, the Supreme Court ruled that two flight attendants with severe myopia were not disabled because they could still perform the essential functions of their jobs with the help of glasses.
In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Toyota v. Williams that a woman with carpal tunnel syndrome was not disabled because she could still perform the essential functions of her job with the help of a splint.
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These rulings led to criticism that the ADA was not doing enough to protect people with disabilities. In response, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), which broadened the definition of disability.
The ADAAA defines “major life activities” to include daily activities like caring for oneself or performing manual operations. It also includes impairments to major bodily functions like digestive and respiratory functions, and neurological impairments.
As a result of the ADAAA, it is now more likely that people with disabilities will be successful in ADA lawsuits.
Consequences of Violating ADA Compliance
The repercussions of violating the ADA can be severe. If violated, businesses and organizations may be subject to:
- Fines: The U.S. Department of Justice can impose fines of up to $75,000 for each violation of the ADA.
- Lawsuits: Individuals with disabilities who have been discriminated against under the ADA can file lawsuits against businesses that can be costly and time-consuming.
- Damages: Disabled employees who win lawsuits against businesses under the ADA can be awarded damages, including back pay, lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
- Reputation: Businesses that violate the ADA can damage their reputations, leading to lost customers, employees, and investors.
Benefits of Being ADA Compliant
The consequences associated with violating the ADA may be irreversible. On the contrary, remaining ADA compliant can provide a host of advantages.
- Attracts a diverse workforce: Complying with the ADA labels organizations as inclusive employers, which can attract and retain more diverse workforces. A diverse and inclusive work culture has shown to increase innovation and productivity levels.
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- Improves employee morale: Not only does making facilities and services accessible to people with disabilities lead to increased job satisfaction, but studies indicate it also reduces absenteeism.
- Comply with other laws: The ADA is not the only law that requires businesses to provide equal access to people with disabilities. Complying with the ADA also helps ensures compliance with other laws, such as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- Promotes a more inclusive and welcoming environment for employees and customers: Complying with the ADA promotes a more inclusive and comfortable work environment for employees and customers alike, which can generate higher customer satisfaction levels and increased brand loyalty.
Tips for Businesses & Organizations on ADA Compliance
1. Conduct an Accessibility Audit
Conducting an accessibility audit of facilities and services will help identify areas that need to be modified in order to make them fully accessible to people with disabilities.
The U.S. Access Board has a number of publications and tools that can help businesses get started. A few of these resources include: the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), the ADA Checklist for Small Businesses, and the ADA Technical Assistance Manual.
2. Create an Accessibility Plan
Once an accessibility audit has been conducted, businesses will need to create an accessibility plan that outlines the steps to make facilities and services accessible.
An accessibility plan should include a list of the areas that need to be modified and a timeline for making the modifications. The plan should also encompass estimated cost of the modifications and the person(s) responsible for overseeing the modifications.
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3. Train Employees on the ADA
It is essential that businesses train employees on guidelines of the ADA. A better understanding of responsibilities under the law helps employees to learn how to interact appropriately with disabled coworkers.
ADA educational training should relay the purpose of the ADA and detail the rights of people with disabilities protected under the law. Training should also explain the legal responsibilities of businesses mandated by the ADA and instruct how organizations can provide equal access to people with disabilities.
4. Work with the Local Disability Community
Working with the local disability community can help identify specific needs of people with disabilities, and how those needs can be met. Attending disability community events or joining disability-related organizations are useful ways to meet disability advocates who can help guide the process to hire people with disabilities.
Ava for ADA Compliance
Ava serves as an assistive tool and technology solution that helps businesses stay ADA compliant. Live captions on screens of all sizes, on desktop or mobile devices provide communication access to people with disabilities, particularly those who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Any organization looking to enhance accessibility for their business can review the following benefits of Ava’s speech-to-text transcription technology:
- Increased accessibility: Live captions can help Deaf and hard of hearing people participate fully in activities, events, meetings, and all other conversations.
- Reduced discrimination: By providing live captions, businesses can show that they are committed to providing equal access to employees with disabilities, reducing the likelihood of discrimination and promoting inclusion.
- Improved communication: Ava’s live caption solution can also help Deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals communicate more effectively in both personal and professional settings.
- Increased safety: Ensuring safety in noisy environments is critical for people with disabilities. By using live captions, disabled employees can easily follow instructions during emergency evacuations or other demanding circumstances that require their attention.
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