ADA Law: Defining Disability Inclusive Physical and Digital Facilities
ADA: A Brief Historical Background
ADA's signing in 1990 was the result of the collective action of disability and rights group leaders, who found support from the U.S. Congress and federal civil rights agencies in the 1980s. The American government first recognized the discrimination against people with disabilities in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. But Section 504 only mandates inclusivity for federally funded public and private programs and activities. Soon, the disability community had to fight negative Supreme Court rulings on Section 504 cases. Lawmakers later held public hearings where thousands of people with disabilities and their families shared their "discrimination diaries."
In 1988, a small advisory council within the health, education, and welfare department that later became a federal agency— the National Council on Disability—drafted a proposal, which served as the first version of the ADA as we know it today. Senators Lowell Weicker (Connecticut) and Tom Harkin (Iowa)—who had family members with disabilities—supported and introduced the first draft to the Senate in the same year. The law was signed two years later, with its sections enacted in waves between 1991 and 1994.
Understanding the Sections of ADA
The following sections of the ADA seek to provide full participation and equal opportunities to 26% of adults in the U.S. who have some type of disability. Adhering to these provisions protects businesses from possible lawsuits.
Employment (Title 1)
Businesses with 15 or more staff should provide the same benefits given to persons without disabilities when it comes to recruitment, compensation, leave, training, fringe benefits, layoffs, and so on. In particular, an employer can't require a candidate with a disability to undergo a medical exam unless the exam results are a condition for the hiring of all applicants.
Public Services and Public as well as Commercial Facilities (Title 2 and 3)
These sections cover government offices and privately-run establishments open to the public. These include schools, restaurants, shops, hotels, sports centers, cinemas, and other recreation facilities. Their exterior and interior designs should be easy for visitors with disabilities to navigate. Features include curb cuts, wheelchair accessibility and movable furniture, lower clearance for counters and drinking fountains, and ADA signages. Titles 2 and 3 also apply to public and privately operated transportation as well as commercial facilities such as corporate offices, warehouses, and factories.
Telecommunications (Title 4)
Telephone services, the internet, and others that provide real-time communication fall under this category. The ADA requires that these systems offer "auxiliary aids" to support those with visual, hearing, and speech disabilities. Text telephones, video captioning, alternative text for web images, and proper color contrast for webpages are some ways that telecom facilities can be ADA-compliant.
Miscellaneous (Title 5)
The law's final section says persons with disabilities should have access to legal remedies when their rights are violated. They're also entitled to medical insurance and state workers' compensation.
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