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Disability: Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (FAQs)

Authored By: Legal Aid of North Carolina LSC Funded


What is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)? +

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is federal legislation designed to make American Society more accessible to people with disabilities.

Who is covered under ADA? +

ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees

Public Services
ADA covers state and local government agencies, public transportation systems such as transit buses. ADA applies to state and local government agencies regardless of size.

Public Accommodations
ADA covers restaurants, groceries, hotel, and retail stores as well as privately owned transportations systems. It also includes movie theaters, private schools, doctor’s offices, homeless shelters, day care centers and sport stadiums. ADA applies to public accommodations regardless of size.

ADA covers companies offering telephone services.

ADA prohibits coercion, threats or retaliation against the disabled, or those attempting to help the disabled, by asserting their ADA rights.

Who is protected under the ADA? +

Disabled individuals affected by employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications.

Who is disabled under ADA? +

1. ADA applies to a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as sitting, standing, sleeping). See definition of major life activities question # 5.

The ADA covers people who are deaf, blind or use wheelchairs. People who have physical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes, HIV infection, or severe forms of arthritis, hypertension or carpal tunnel syndrome may also be covered.

2. The ADA applies to persons with a record of a disability or substantially limiting impairment. For example, a person with a history of cancer or HIV that is now in remission may be covered.

3. The ADA applies to a person who is regarded (or treated) as if she has a disability.

Sometimes a person may be covered by the ADA even if she/he has no impairment because the public acts based on fears or stereotypes about a person’s medical condition. For example, a person with HIV is denied a job because of fear that a person with this condition would miss a lot of work.

What is a major life activity? +

Major life activities are the basic components of a person’s life. It includes walking, talking, seeing, and learning. If a person has an impairment or condition that limits his/her ability to perform one or more of these activities, that person is considered disabled under the ADA.

What is a reasonable accommodation? +

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications to enable people with disabilities to enjoy the opportunities and privileges that a person without disabilities enjoys. 

Accommodations vary depending on the needs of the individual. A deaf person may need sign a language interpreter; an employee with diabetes may need regular breaks during the work day to monitor blood sugar.

Are accommodations required by the ADA? +

Yes, employers, government agencies, places of public service and those entities covered by the ADA must provide accommodations that are reasonable, if a person with disabilities needs an accommodation to apply for a job, perform a job, and enjoy benefits and privileges equal to those offered to people without disabilities.

What is undue hardship? +

An undue hardship exists when an accommodation results in significant difficulties or expense considering the resources and the type of business.

If providing an accommodation would result in undue hardship on an employer, government entity or public service entity may not have to provide the accommodation.

Who is responsible for seeking an accommodation? +

The individual with disability must ask for an accommodation. A family member, health professional or other representative may request an accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability.

A doctor’s note indicating that an employee can work with
certain restrictions is a request for an accommodation.

There are tax incentives to offset cost of accommodations

Where are complaints for violations of ADA made? +


Complaints about violations of ADA in employment must be filed
with EEOC within 180 days of the discrimination. An individual may
file a complaint in federal court after receiving a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.

State and local government

A complaint may be filed with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) within 180 days of the date of discrimination. Individuals may bring a private lawsuit in federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with DOJ
before going to court.

U.S. Department of Justice
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, DC 20035
(800) 514-0301


Public Transportation

Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 seventh St., S.W.
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-2285


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Last Review and Update: Jul 31, 2014