The ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, is the basis of many laws and rules that protect the civil rights of Americans who have some sort of disability. The ADA was passed in 1990 with strong support in the US Congress from both parties. It was signed by President H. W. Bush.
According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2012, nearly 40 million Americans had a disability—that’s about one out of every five Americans.
The aim of the ADA is to include these people in their communities and in society at large, ensuring that they—just like anyone else—can access and use the features of their communities and the nation as a whole. Examples of these features include, in no particular order, education and employment, medical offices and hospitals, stores and theaters, and libraries and government offices. They also include transportation, telephones, and Internet-related technologies.
The ADA has five sections, which are called titles. Each title has details about a specific topic. These topics cover rules that must be followed by employers, by state and local governments, by businesses, and by certain telecommunications firms. The fifth title has miscellaneous rules, including protection for people who try to exercise their rights under the ADA.
The ADA defines disability with a three-part definition (sometimes called a three-prong definition). It protects people with disabilities and people who are associated with people with disabilities. (Associated with means that the person could be, for example, a friend of a person with a disability, or a relative or co-worker of a person with a disability, or an attendant of a person with a disability.)
The ADA has significantly and positively affected the lives of people with disabilities. A study by the National Council on Disability in 2005 found that this impact occurred in as little as 5 years after the law was passed. The preliminary findings of the study indicate that significant strides have been made in transportation and with public facilities, such as restaurants, theaters, stores, and museums.
The US Congress can pass amendments to laws. An amendment modifies the law. In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) made important changes that clarified some of the wording in the ADA, making the words more fully support the spirit of the law.
After a law is passed, another agency—not Congress—creates the actual, specific rules and enforces them. In the case of the ADA, several different agencies have responsibility for rule-making and enforcement. For example, all employment-related rules are handled by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
For a deeper look at the ADA, see What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act?