ADA Toolkit for State and Local Government
Learn about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and disability -related topics through Frequently Asked Questions on the ADA, various Events & Training, and Publications & Resources from the ADA National Network.
Frequently Asked Questions on ADA
Events & Training
Publications & Resources
About the ADA National Network
Contact your ADA Center
State and Local Government: ADA Frequently Asked Questions
What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law that protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination and provides for equal access and opportunity. Former President George Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.
The ADA applies to situations in these five areas:
- State and local government,
- Public accommodations (private businesses),
- Telecommunications, and
Definition of Disability under the ADA
The ADA prohibits discrimination against any qualified individual with a disability. Specifically, the ADA protects three categories of individuals:
- Individuals who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
- Individuals who have a record of a physical or mental impairment.
- Individuals who are regarded as having an impairment, whether they have an impairment or not.
The ADA does not include a list of covered disabilities under the law. Therefore, to determine if you are covered under the law, you need to determine if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
The definition of disability does not include simple physical characteristics, common personality traits, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantages.
The ADA also excludes coverage for individuals who currently use illegal drugs, certain sexual disorders and preferences, and compulsive gambling, kleptomania, and pyromania.
What State and local government agencies are covered by the ADA?
Title II of the ADA applies to State and local government agencies, also known as public entities.
A public entity covered by Title II of the ADA is defined as:
- Any State or local government.
- Any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a State or local government, including public schools.
- Certain commuter authorities and AMTRAK.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by public entities. Activities covered include:
- The operation of all services and programs offered by the entity.
- All aspects of the employment relationship.
- Government services carried out by contractors.
- Activities of State and local legislative and judicial branches.
Title II of the ADA does NOT cover activities of the Federal government, including the military. Federal agencies are covered by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
What are the general requirements of the law?
- Equal Opportunity: The ADA requires that individuals with disabilities have an equal opportunity to participate in the programs and activities offered by State and local governments for which they are eligible. This right includes not only the opportunity to participate, but also an opportunity that is equally effective. Although a public entity can provide separate benefits or services, it should do so only where necessary to provide an equal opportunity.
- Integrated Programs: Services and programs must be delivered in the most integrated setting appropriate to the person's level of need even if separate programs exist. A public entity cannot require that an individual with a disability participate in a separate program.
- Methods of Administration: A public entity may not use official written policies that are discriminatory or engage in actual practices that are discriminatory.
- Licensing and Certification: A public entity may not use official written policies that are discriminatory or engage in actual practices that are discriminatory. A qualified individual with a disability cannot be denied licensure or certification by a public entity if the person meets the essential eligibility requirements for the task involved. This requirement also applies when a public entity contracts with a private entity to handle licensing and certification responsibilities.
What steps should State and local government entities take to ensure compliance with the ADA?
Title II requires that public entities with 50 or more employees do the following:
- Designate a responsible employee to coordinate and ensure ADA compliance. This requirement ensures that the public can identify a person who is familiar with the requirements of the ADA and who can communicate these requirements to other individuals in the agency who may be unaware of their responsibilities. The public entity must provide the ADA coordinator’s name, office address, and telephone number to the general public. The ADA coordinator’s role includes panning and coordinating overall compliance efforts, ensuring that the administrative requirements are achieved, and receiving and investigating grievances on programs, services, practices, and employment.
- Provide notice of ADA requirements. All public entities, regardless of size, must provide information to all interested parties regarding the rights and protections afforded by Title II, including information about how the Title II requirements apply to its particular programs, services, and activities. The public entity must provide the information on an ongoing basis
- Establish a grievance procedure. Grievance procedures must be adopted and published. These procedures provide for a prompt and equitable resolution of grievances arising under Title II. The ADA coordinator is responsible for receiving and investigating complaints. The purpose of the grievance procedure is to provide a mechanism for the resolution of discrimination issues at the State or local level.
- Conduct a self-evaluation. All public entities must conduct a self-evaluation, a comprehensive review of the entity's current policies and practices, including communications and employment. Through the self-evaluation, the entity must identify any policies or practices that do not comply with Title II requirements and modify those policies and practices to bring them into compliance.
- Develop a transition plan. A transition plan must be developed when structural changes to existing facilities are necessary in order to make a program, service, or activity accessible to individuals with disabilities. The transition plan identifies physical obstacles that limit the accessibility of programs, services, or activities to individuals with disabilities, describes the methods to be used to make the facilities accessible, provides a schedule for making the access modifications, and indicates the public official responsible for implementation of the transition plan.
What is program access? How can State and local government agencies ensure programs and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities?
As a general rule, a public entity may not deny the benefits of its programs, activities, and services to individuals with disabilities because its facilities are physically inaccessible. A public entity's services, programs, and activities, when viewed in its entirety, must be readily accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities. This standard applies to all existing facilities of a public entity. Public entities are not necessarily required to make all of their existing facilities accessible.
Example of ways to provide program access include:
- Nonstructural Changes: Acquisition or redesign of equipment, assignment of aides, provision of services at alternate accessible sites.
- Structural Changes: Alterations of existing facilities and acquisition of construction of new accessible facilities.
When choosing a method of providing program access, a public entity must give priority to the one that results in the most integrated setting appropriate to encourage interaction among all users, including individuals with disabilities
Requirements for achieving program accessibility became effective January 26, 1992.
What do State and local government agencies need to do to make buildings and facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities?
All facilities designed, constructed, or altered by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity (State or local government) must be readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. The facility must be designed, constructed, or altered in strict compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Public entities must provide elevators in all new, multi-level construction.
Automatic door openers are NOT required by the ADA. However, the main entrance to buildings must be manageable. It is recommended that opening the door should not require more than 8.5 pounds of pressure. In some instances, automatic door openers are the only way to make the main entrance of your business accessible.
What are State and local government agencies required to do to provide effective communication?
State and local government agencies must ensure that communications with individuals with disabilities are as effective as communication with others. In order to provide equal access, public entities are required to provide auxiliary aids and services that promote effective communication.
Examples of auxiliary aids and services include, but are not limited to: qualified interpreters, captioning, TTYs, large print materials, Braille materials, and computer software.
Public entities must allow individuals with disabilities to request the auxiliary aid or service of their choice. The public entity MUST give preference to the first choice of the individual with a disability, unless the entity can demonstrate that another equally effective means of communication is available.
Public entities that provide emergency telephone services must provide direct access to individuals who rely on a TTY for telephone communication. Use of the relay service for these services does not satisfy this requirement.
ADA National Network: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the ADA National Network?
The ADA National Network consists of ten (10) regional centers funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) under the U.S. Department of Education.
The ADA National Network, formerly known as DBTAC (Disability and Business Technical Assistance Center), is the leader in providing information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet your needs. Its mission is to:
- Facilitate voluntary compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
- Conduct research to reduce and eliminate barriers to employment and economic self-sufficiency and to increase the civic and social participation of Americans with disabilities
What services does the ADA National Network provide?
The ADA National Network, consisting of ten (10) regional centers, is the leader in providing information, guidance, and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels, and offers the following core services:
- Technical Assistance:Highly trained specialists are available to answer your questions about the ADA, including advice and information on what is required, who is covered, and how to work through ADA-related questions.Call the national toll free hotline at 1-800-949-4232 [voice/tty]. All calls are strictly confidential.
- Education and Training: Provide customized training and distance education opportunities (i.e. Webcourses, Webinars, Podcasts, and National ADA Initiatives) about the ADA and disability-related laws to disability organizations, State and local government agencies, and private businesses.
- Materials Dissemination: Distribute publications with accurate information about the ADA. Provide up-to-date ADA information via websites, social media, email, discussion lists, newsletters, and printed materials.
- Information and Referral: Provide referrals to local organizations for advocacy assistance or issues outside of our work scope.
- Public Awareness: Promote the ADA in a positive manner in media outlets.
- Local Capacity Building: Work closely with business, disability, governmental, rehabilitation, and other professional networks to assist with ADA efforts in your State and local communities.
How do I contact the ADA National Network?
If you have questions, need resources or want training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), contact your ADA Center for information, guidance, events, and various materials and online tools to make your efforts easier, as well as help you brainstorm and develop solutions for your customers.
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