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Americans with Disabilities Act

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ADA General Information

What Does the ADA Cover?

Although Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 previously addressed the rights of individuals with disabilities, the ADA extends this coverage to a wider array of areas.  Specifically, the ADA outlines five areas ("Titles") in which persons with disabilities have legal rights: employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications, and other miscellaneous provisions.

Title I | Title II | Title III | Title IV | Title V

Title I: Employment

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act addresses the rights of individuals with disabilities in employment settings. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook (U.S. Department of Justice, 1991), the purpose of Title I is to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination on the basis of disability. As long as the individual is qualified for an employment opportunity, s/he cannot be denied that opportunity simply because s/he has a disability, and must therefore be given the same consideration for employment that individuals without disabilities are given.  For a more complete discussion of Title I, refer to the ADA and Employment Page on this site.

Title II: Public Services

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act addresses the right of access to public services by individuals with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook (U.S. Department of Justice, 1991), the purpose of Title II is to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in all services, programs, and activities provided or made available by local or state governments and their affiliate agencies.  This is regardless of A) whether they receive federal funding, and B) how many employees they have (i.e., state or government agencies with fewer than 15 employees are required to follow the ADA).  Examples of public services covered by the ADA include: 


  • public bus service
  • government meetings
  • public schools and universities
  • recreation and state parks.

For a more complete discussion of Title II, refer to the ADA and Post-Secondary Education Page on this site.

For information regarding Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973, that parallels the Title II requirements,
use this link. Section 504, Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Title III: Public Accommodation

This section of the ADA specifies that no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of public accommodations.  In the past, only businesses and service agencies receiving federal monies were required to make their facilities accessible to persons with disabilities.  Title III, however, mandates the accessibility of all services, even those privately owned, and requires that all new places of public accommodation and commercial facilities be designed and constructed so as to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act Handbook, 1991).  Examples of "public accommodations" include:

  • Public gathering places (restaurants, bars, movie theaters, etc.)
  • Places of lodging (hotels, motels, inns)
  • Retail stores
  • Social service centers

In providing goods and services, a public accommodation may not use eligibility requirements that exclude or segregate individuals with disabilities, unless the requirements are "necessary" for the operation of the public accommodation.   Title III also requires public accommodations to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures, unless those modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the services provided by the public accommodation.  For example, the proprietors of a dimly-lit "romantic" restaurant would not have to increase their lighting to accommodate a person with visual impairment, since doing so would destroy the intended ambience of the business.  Here, the use of an "auxiliary aid" (e.g., a policy requiring staff to read the menu to customers needing assistance) would insure that the establishment remains in compliance with Title III of the ADA.  In terms of physical accessibility, all new buildings must adhere to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).  Owners of existing public accommodation facilities must remove physical barriers when it is "readily achievable" to do so (i.e., when it can be accomplished easily and without much expense).

Title IV: Telecommunications

Title IV of the ADA amends the Communications Act of 1934 to require that telephone companies provide telecommunication relay services. The relay services must provide speech-impaired or hearing-impaired individuals who use TDD's (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) or other non-voice terminal devices opportunities for communication that are equivalent to those provided to other customers.  Also covered under ADA Title IV are Closed Captioning services; namely, televisions 13 inches or more in size must have closed captioning capabilities.

Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

As its name implies, this section of the ADA contains supplemental regulations that are not explicitly covered in other parts of the ADA.  These topics include (but are not limited to):

  • State Immunity:  This provision was necessary because in most states, individuals cannot sue state agencies or affiliates unless these entities agree to be "sue-able".  By explicitly stating that states cannot claim immunity from ADA-related legal action, the ADA insures that individuals with disabilities maintain their right to sue any state agency in violation of ADA provisions. Under the Alabama vs. Garrett decision, it was held that a state employee cannot sue the state for damages. An individual can sue the state to make that state comply with the ADA but no damages will be awarded. However, the federal government can sue the state and financial penalties can be assessed.
  • Retaliation:  This provision protects individuals with disabilities who successfully sue a company, government agency, or other entity subject to ADA regulation.  They are prohibited from threatening, intimidating, coercing, or harassing anyone involved in a successful lawsuit, including those who may have testified on the disabled individual's behalf.
  • Attorney's Fees:  In addition to damages, individuals with disabilities, under the discretion of the judge, can have their attorney's fees awarded as part of the settlement of a successful lawsuit under the ADA.
  • Coverage of Congress:  Until recently, Congress invoked the right of adhering to Section 504 (1973 Rehabilitation Act) guidelines rather than adopt the new ADA guidelines.  Presently, only the Executive Branch of the federal government uses the 1973 law; both the Judicial and Legislative branches of the federal government are covered by the ADA.
  • Other Federal & State Laws:  Any other state or federal laws addressing individuals with disabilities can be used under the umbrella of the ADA.   This way, if a federal or state law is developed that is stronger than the provisions outlined in the ADA, these new, stricter regulations can be incorporated into the existing ADA legislation to provide the maximum protection for individuals with disabilities.

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Reviewed 08/26/2016

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