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Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP

Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

People with disabilities today are protected by the law when they’re at work, at school, or seeking to participate in a government program. They enjoy several civil rights guarantees afforded by the law, but that wasn’t always the case. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990, setting out to secure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination in the following areas of public life, among others:

  • Communications
  • Education
  • Employment
  • Governmental Activities
  • Public Accommodation
  • Public and Private Areas Open to the Public
  • Purchasing Goods and Services
  • Transportation

A person must have a disability to be protected under the ADA. While the act does not name every specific impairment encompassed by the law, it defines disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a significant impact on one or more major life activities. A person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or one who is regarded by others as having such an impairment, would also be considered an individual with a disability.

Title I of the ADA provides equal employment opportunity for people with disabilities. Along with race, sex, color, nationality, age, and religion, employers may not discriminate on the basis of an individual’s disability. The title applies to the employment practices of state and local governments, private employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor unions, and others. These bodies may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities in terms of the job application process, hiring, firing, promotions, training, and other circumstances of employment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the ADA’s employment regulations.

Within the context of a job application or interview, applicants are not required to answer an employer’s questions about the existence or nature of a disability—in fact, employers are legally prohibited from asking. An employer can only ask for a medical examination if it is job-related and required for all employees in similar positions. If an employer does receive access to an employee’s medical records, they must keep the information confidential.

Under Title I of the ADA, people with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodation from employers. Employers are required to modify or adjust any aspect of the position or the work environment that will enable qualified applicants or employees with disabilities to complete the application process or perform essential job functions. In other words, they need to remove any roadblocks that might prevent employees from fulfilling their duties due to disability. Reasonable accommodation could entail adding accessibility features to the work facilities, modifying work schedules and breaks, adding equipment or devices, or providing interpreters. Accommodation needs vary, but they must not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s regular business operations.

Whether you are a blind applicant needing someone to read work materials, a chronically ill person who needs leave for medical treatment, or a physically impaired employee who needs accessible features to safely enter an office building, you are entitled to protection under the ADA. Employers may also benefit from tax incentives when they hire you. If you speak out against an employer’s discriminatory practices, the ADA also protects you from retaliation. Don’t be afraid to uphold your rights in the workplace. If you believe an employer has discriminated against you and broken the laws and standards established by the ADA, you should seek help from a reputable employment attorney. Call the Law Office of Cohen & Jaffe, LLP to secure reliable representation for your legal disputes.

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