The Americans with Disabilities Act in the Workplace

If you are looking for a job, new to the workforce or employed for a long time, you should be familiar with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).   The Act is a federal civil rights law designed to prevent discrimination and enable individuals with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of society.  One of the underlying principles of the ADA is that individuals with disabilities who want to work and are qualified to work must have an equal opportunity to work.

To be protected you must be a qualified individual who has a physical or mental disability, has a record of having such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment which substantially limits a major life activity such as hearing, seeing, speaking, thinking walking breathing or performing manual tasks.  However, this disability alone is not enough to place you under the jurisdiction of the ADA; you must also be able to do the job you want or were hired to do with or without reasonable accommodation.

The focus of the ADA is to protect you from discrimination in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, pay, promotion, benefits, and leave. You also have the right to be free from harassment because of the disability, and an employer cannot terminate or disciplined you for asserting your rights under the ADA.  Probably the most important facet of this act is that it gives you the right to request a reasonable accommodation for the hiring process and on the job.

The ADA addresses at least seven areas of possible employment discrimination:

  • Limiting, segregating or classifying a job applicant or employee in a way that adversely affects that person’s opportunities or status;
  • Participating in a contractual or other arrangement or relationship that subjects a covered employee to discrimination prohibited by the Act;
  • Using standards, criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of discrimination or perpetuate the discrimination;
  • Denying equal jobs or benefits to a qualified individual because that person associates with someone who has a known disability.
  • Not making reasonable accommodations to the known limitations of an otherwise qualified individual unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business;
  • Using selection criteria that screen out an individual with a disability or a class of individuals with disabilities unless the criteria are job-related and are consistent with business necessity; and
  • Failing to select and administer employment tests in the most effective manner to ensure that results accurately reflect whatever factors the test purports to measure rather than reflecting a person’s disability. (J. Parry, 1990.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Mental and Physical Disability Law Reporter, 14, 293-294.)

A reasonable accommodation is any change or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done that would allow you to apply for a job, perform job functions or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals in the workplace, There are many types of things that may help people with disabilities work successfully.  Some of the most common types of accommodations include:

  • physical changes, such as installing a ramp or modifying a workspace or restroom;
  • Sign language interpreters for people who are deaf or readers for people who are blind;
  • Providing a quieter workspace or making other changes to reduce noisy distractions for someone with a mental disability;
  • Training and other written materials in an accessible format, such as in Braille, on audio tape, or on a computer disk;
  • TTY’s for use with telephones by people who are deaf, and hardware and software with vision impairments or who have difficulty in using their hands; and
  • Time off for someone who needs treatment for a disability.