The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990:
It's Impact on Rescue Missions

There are an estimated 43 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities. ADA is causing people to think in new ways and to be more observant about their psychological and physical environments, with removal of architectural and communications barriers. Since it's passage in 1990, ADA has resulted in a large number of complaints filed with federal regulators. While about 80 percent deal with employment-related issues, more than 20 percent of the complaints argue that employers have failed to provide appropriate accommodations.

What is the purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA, signed into law July 26, 1990, bans discrimination based on disability. It gives individuals with disabilities civil rights protections like those provided to individuals on the basis of race, sex, national origin and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunication relay services.

Why is the ADA needed?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover people with disabilities. Until passage of the ADA, federal protections against discrimination based on a person's disability were scattered and very limited. Congress concluded that discrimination existed against people with disabilities, and they were sometimes denied equal, effective and meaningful opportunities to participate in society.

How is disability defined by the ADA?

The ADA defines disability to mean a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual, having a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. This is the same definition included in section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Fair Housing Act Amendments and the Air Carrier Access Act.

What does the ADA cover?

Highlights of the requirements for each section of the law are as follows:



State and Local Government Services

Public Accommodations  (including rescue missions)


What are Considered Barriers?

An architectural barrier is a physical object that impedes a disabled person's access to, or use of, a facility. Examples include a flight of stairs as the only means of entry into a building or a water fountain that cannot be used by a person in a wheelchair.

Communications barriers that are structural in nature are those which are an integral part of the physical structure of a facility. Examples include alarm systems and permanent signage.

What is Readily Achievable?

The ADA defines readily achievable as "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." Whether an action is readily achievable is to be determined on a case-by-case basis. No numerical formula or threshold of any kind was set by the Justice Department.

However, the following factors are to be considered:

Examples of Readily Achievable Measures

The following are examples of steps that may be readily achievable, according to the Justice Department. The list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to provide an illustration of barrier removal that could be readily achievable. Whether or not any of these measures, or others, are readily achievable, must be determined on a case by case basis.


How is ADA affecting the workplace?

Although ADA covers many issues, physical accommodations of the workplace are a key element of the overall legislation. It is changing the way we think about the workplace, and this is another reason why it is in the best interests of building owners and operators to take seriously ADA accommodations requirements. Those requirements include:

What are some special concerns for rescue missions?


Where can I go to get more information about the law?

U. S. Department of Justice
Public Access Section
Civil Rights Division
P. O. Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
(202) 514-0301 Voice, (202) 514-0383 TDD
(202) 514-6193 Electronic Bulletin Board

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20507
1-800-4400 to file a charge
1-800-669-EEOC Publications & Referrals
1-800-800-3302 TDD

U.S. Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W., Room 10424
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-9305 Voice
(202) 755-7687 TDD

Access Board
1331 F St., NW, Suite 1000
Washington, D.C. 20004-1111
(202) 872-2253 Voice and TDD
1-800-993-2822 TDD