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The Americans with Disabilities Act Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26th, 1990. The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities are functions that are important to most people's daily lives and include, but are not limited to: walking, eating, breathing, communicating, seeing, and hearing. This definition includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person's association with a person with a disability.

Having a "record of" having a disability means that a person has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, even though the person does not currently have a disability. "Regarded as" having a disability means that the person either: (1) Has an impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity; (2) Has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity only as a result of the attitudes of others toward them; or (3) Does not have any impairment, but is treated by an entity as having an impairment.

All people who meet the ADA definition of disability are covered by the ADA in general, but they may still not have rights under particular sections of the ADA. For example, there is a section of the ADA that deals only with employment discrimination. If a person with a disability is not employed and is not seeking employment, then that person would not necessarily be covered by that part of the ADA, although the person would be covered by other parts of the ADA.

The ADA is divided into five (5) sections called "titles." Each title covers a different area: Title I covers employment; Title II covers state and local government programs; Title III covers places of public accommodation; Title IV covers telecommunications, and Title V has several miscellaneous provisions that cover things like retaliation and attorney fees.