• Disability Law Overview

    Disability Law OverviewDisability law is regulated by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. This law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the areas of employment, housing, education and access to public services and ensures equal opportunity for people with disabilities. An individual with a disability is an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a history or record of their impairment, or is perceived by others as having an impairment. There is no set list of all the impairments covered.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act requires reasonable accommodations to be made for individuals with disabilities to provide the same opportunities as provided to those without a disability. The agencies that oversee enforcement are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice. States may also pass their own disability statutes but the statute must be consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act covers employers with 15 or more employees. The Act requires these employers to provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the same employment activities available to others. This act also restricts the type of questions that can be asked about the disability before the applicant is hired. Employers must make reasonable accommodations for any known physical or mental disability unless it would result in an undue hardship for the employer. Complaints must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the discrimination. An individual may only file a lawsuit after the individual receives a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC.

    Accommodations must also be made on public transportation for individuals with disabilities. Public transportation authorities must comply with requirements for accessibility on any newly purchased vehicles or make a good faith effort in complying on the purchase of used vehicles. These authorities must also provide paratransit unless it would result in an undue burden. Paratransit is a service where an individual who is unable to use regular transportation is picked up and dropped off at their destination independent of regular public transportation.

    This Act also requires businesses and nonprofits to make accommodations. This includes restaurants, retail stores, hotels, private schools and recreation facilities. These businesses must comply with the nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation and unequal treatment. They must also comply with architectural standards, policies and procedures, and effective communication. Complaints of violations of public transportation and business accommodations must be made to the Department of Justice.

    There are additional statutes that protect individuals with disabilities that are more specific than the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in selling or renting property to individuals with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination in federal agency programs, programs receiving federal funding, federal employment and employees of federal contractors. The Air Carriers Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation against qualified individuals with a physical or mental impairment. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to make available free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment according to their individual needs.
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