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What’s the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”)

By Gianna D’Onofrio, Guest Writer

Person with disability near stairs

What is the ADA?

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in areas of life such as employment, education, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services.

The foundation for the ADA is a promise of equal access to opportunity for all American citizens. The ADA fulfills this promise by eliminating barriers to disabled individuals’ participation in many aspects of living and working.

The ADA in Employment

The ADA covers employers with fifteen or more employees.

Title I of the ADA protects the rights of both employees and job seekers. It prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.

Who is protected by Title I of the ADA?

All qualified employees or applicants with disabilities are protected. An individual with a disability is defined as a person who:

  • Has physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

A qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodations are intended to ensure that qualified individuals with disabilities have right in employment equal—not superior—to those of individuals without disabilities. Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities;
  • Job restructuring, modifying work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices, adjusting or modifying examinations, training materials, or policies, and providing qualified readers or interpreters.

Title III: The ADA and Businesses

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations. Such places include restaurants, theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, doctors’ offices, gyms, commercial facilities, etc.) The standards set by the ADA exist to ensure that individuals with disabilities are recognized as members of the public entitled to access the same goods and services as those without disabilities. The law, therefore, requires that businesses open to the public comply with several specific including:

  • Communicating with people with disabilities as effectively as you communicate with others;
  • Making reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures as needed;
  • Ensuring that an individual with disabilities can access the businesses’ goods or services;
  • Allowing service animals to be with their person despite a “no pets” policy;
  • Following specific standards for physical accessibility when building or altering a building or facility;
  • Removing architectural barriers in buildings/facilities when it is readily achievable to do so (i.e. a business only accessible by stairs).

How does this impact small businesses?

Small businesses have reported concerns that accommodating individuals with disabilities may affect the growth of the business due to added costs of removing architectural barriers. The ADA only requires removal where “readily achievable.” Readily achievable means easy to do without much difficulty or expense. The standard is based upon each business’s size and resources. The ADA has stricken a balance intended to increase access for disabled individuals and understanding the challenges that doing so may present for smaller businesses.

Ultimately, the valuable benefits that small businesses receive by increasing their inclusivity is worth the cost of modifications. The disabled community is a valuable customer base with much to offer businesses who invest in their needs and prioritize inclusivity. Questions? Call Mike Farhi at 201-488-7211 x. 215.

Gianna D’Onofrio is a third-year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law with a passion for Corporate Law. Upon graduating in the Spring and taking the Bar Exam, she will serve as a law clerk to Judge Cynthia Santomauro in Essex County, Civil Division.

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