The Americans with Disabilities Act of
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
What is the purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act
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
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
- Employers may not discriminate against an individual with a disability in
hiring or promotion if the person is otherwise qualified for the job.
- Employers can ask about one's ability to perform a job, but cannot
inquire if someone has a disability or subject a person to tests that tend to screen out
people with disabilities.
- Employers will need to provide "reasonable accommodation" to
individuals with disabilities if needed. This includes steps such as job restructuring and
modification of equipment.
- Employers do not need to provide accommodations that impose an
"undue hardship" on business operations.
- New public transit buses and rail cars ordered after Aug. 26, 1990, must
be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
- Transit authorities must provide comparable paratransit or other special
transportation services to individuals with disabilities who cannot use fixed route bus
services, unless an undue burden would result.
- Existing rail systems must have one accessible car per train by July 26,
- New bus and train stations must be accessible.
- Key stations in rapid, light and commuter rail systems must be made
accessible by July 26, 1993, with extensions up to 20 years for commuter rail (30 years
for rapid and light rail).
- All existing Amtrak stations must be accessible by July 26, 2010.
State and Local Government Services
- State and local governments may not discriminate against qualified
individuals with disabilities.
- All government facilities, services, and communications must be
accessible consistent with the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of
Public Accommodations (including rescue missions)
- Private entities such as restaurants, hotels and retail stores may not
discriminate against individuals with disabilities, effective Jan. 26, 1992.
- Reasonable modifications must be made to policies, practices or
procedures to avoid discriminating unless a fundamental alteration to the nature of the
goods or services would result.
- Auxiliary aids and services must be provided to ensure effective
communication with individuals with disabilities that substantially limit the ability to
communicate--such as vision, hearing or speech impairments--unless an undue burden or a
fundamental alteration would result.
- Physical barriers in existing facilities must be removed, if removal is
readily achievable. If not, alternative methods of providing the services must be offered,
if they are readily achievable.
- All new construction and alterations of facilities must be accessible.
- Companies offering telephone service to the general public must offer
telephone relay services to allow communications access for people with speech and hearing
impairments who cannot use telephones.
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
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:
- The nature and the cost of the action needed.
- The overall financial resources of the site or sites involved; the number
of persons employed at the site; the effect on expenses and resources; or the impact upon
the operation of the site.
- The geographic separateness and the administrative or fiscal relationship
of the site or sites to any parent corporation or entity.
- If applicable, the overall financial resources and size of any parent
corporation or entity.
- If applicable, the type of operation of any parent corporation or entity.
In addition, each barrier removal action need not be considered in complete isolation when
determining what is readily achievable. The costs of other barrier removal actions may be
considered as another factor when determining if a measure is readily achievable.
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.
- Installing ramps
- Installing grab bars in toilet stalls
- Making curb cuts in sidewalks and entrances
- Repositioning telephones
- Creating designated accessible parking spaces
- Installing accessible door hardware
- Eliminating a turnstile or providing an alternative accessible path
- Widening doors
- Rearranging toilet partitions to increase maneuvering space
- Repositioning paper towel dispensers in bathroom
- Adding raised marking on elevator control buttons
- Installing offset hinges to widen doorways
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:
- ADA is changing how people think about themselves in relationship to the work setting.
Millions of employees are becoming more sensitive to the relationship between the physical
working environment, their health and their well-being.
- ADA is creating a new work place culture that is raising the expectations of employees
in terms of the working environment. Once issues relating to a host of conditions,
including comfort, adaptability, lighting, noise and even finishes have been articulated,
expectations change. What was insignificant yesterday is of vital importance today.
- ADA is a reflection of heightened environmental concerns. The concept of environment is
expanded to include working and living areas. Ten years ago the "sick building
syndrome" would not have received the attention it is getting today.
- ADA is making us aware that we can do a better job when it comes to workplace
accommodations. It is the computer, particularly the PC, that has called attention to such
issues as lighting, ergonomics and eve strain. Because of the computer, there are new
concepts in office furniture and chair designs as well as interest in lighting
arrangements, particularly indirect lighting.
What are some special concerns for rescue missions?
- Storage facilities - Storage areas are notoriously
inaccessible, not just to those with disabilities but to others as well.
- Signage - Building signage varies from excellent to utterly
confusing. ADA deals with such inadequacies by providing standardization concepts and
positioning sensitivity. Signage should always provide people with clear, quick
- Safety - When it comes to safety issues, ADA only serves to
require compliance with existing codes. It establishes a single standard: all office
injuries can be prevented. A few of the basic requirements are as follows: electrical
equipment must be grounded; heavy equipment or furniture must be properly secured; rugs
must be firmly secured; corridors should clearly marked; safe smoking areas and practices
must be implemented; and glare must be reduced wherever possible.
- Passages - Safe passage is a major ADA focus. Wider doorways
make good sense even though they're a necessity for those using wheelchairs. Far too many
businesses use hallways, landings and other passageways as storage areas, creating both
unsafe conditions and immobilizing those in wheelchairs.
The wide range of issues raised in this section of ADA are not designed to add to the cost
of remodeling or new construction. They are prudent, thoughtful requirements that enhance
any work environment.
- Lighting - ADA endorses the latest recommendations of the
Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. Sensors that turn on lights when
someone enters a room not only aid the disabled worker but conserve energy as well.
Sensitizing people to the necessity of eliminating glare is one of the major workplace
issues in the nation today. ADA focuses further attention on the value of natural light in
Clearly, one of the important considerations with lighting is the ever increasing use of
computer terminals, and ADA requires that steps be taken to improve lighting conditions
for computer work, particularly when it comes to eliminating glare. Even more important,
it codifies the need to relate lighting to various types of work.
- Image - Although there are numerous other sections dealing
with accessibility, adaptability, furnishings, the division of space and comfort, one of
the most interesting section concerns is the one on image. Although architects have long
emphasized the value of coordinating furnishings and color to create a pleasant work
environment, many businesses have chosen, to keep work areas quite basic.
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
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 7th Street, S.W., Room 10424
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-9305 Voice
(202) 755-7687 TDD
1331 F St., NW, Suite 1000
Washington, D.C. 20004-1111
(202) 872-2253 Voice and TDD
- ADA is Having a Significant Impact in the New Workplace, Albert P. Prior,
Industrial Engineering, June 1994
- "The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990", a web page from The Arc National Headquarters, Arlington, Texas.