The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.
Title I – Employment
Title II – State and Local Government
Title III – Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities
Title IV – Telecommunications
Title V – Miscellaneous Provisions
The ADA does not specifically mention autism or any other disability. However, the definition of disability under the ADA is broad enough to include many individuals with autism.
To be protected under the ADA, an individual must have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
In addition, an individual must have a record of such an impairment or be regarded as having such an impairment.
The ADA also protects individuals from discrimination based on their association with someone with a disability. For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire an individual because that person has a child with autism.
The ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. This includes state and local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations, and private businesses.
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation is a change in the work environment or in the way things are usually done in order to help a person with a disability perform his or her job.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
Allowing an employee with autism to take breaks as needed
Allowing an employee with autism to work from home
Creating a quiet work environment for an employee with autism
Allowing for a job coach for an employee with autism
An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship on the business. An undue hardship is defined as an action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as the nature and cost of the accommodation, the overall financial resources of the business, the size of the business, and the type of business.
The ADA also prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, training, pay, benefits, and all other conditions and privileges of employment.
The ADA prohibits retaliation against any individual who files a complaint or participates in an investigation under the ADA.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency responsible for enforcing the ADA. Individuals who believe that they have been discriminated against in violation of the ADA can file a complaint with the EEOC.
The ADA does not preempt (or override) any state or local laws that provide greater protections to individuals with disabilities.
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) made several significant changes to the ADA.
The ADAAA broadened the definition of disability and made it easier for individuals with disabilities to prove that they are covered under the ADA.
The ADAAA also clarified that the determination of whether an individual has a disability should be made without considering the use of mitigating measures, such as medication, prosthetics, or assistive devices.
The ADAAA went into effect on January 1, 2009.