The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

“Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
Source: Remarks of President George H.W. Bush at the Signing of the ADA


A brief explanation of ADA, why it was initially enacted, and what it may look like in future by Steven Befort.

The ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. It was the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. Its purpose then, and now, is to “ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard. Independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”[1]

In the almost two decades between the enactment of the ADA (1990) and the enactment of the Amendments to the ADA (2008), the courts acted, in many cases, to narrow the application of the Act’s provisions. Congress responded by passing the Amendments to the ADA in 2008, which made it clear that the Act was to “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities” and provide broad coverage “interpreted consistently with how courts had applied the definition of a handicapped individual under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.” (§12101(a))

The Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. 126 beginning at §12101, specifies a broad, three-prong definition of disability as: (1) A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of an individual. (2) A record of such an impairment, and (3) Being regarded as having an impairment. This section also specifies that this definition “be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals under this chapter, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of this chapter.” (§12102)

The Act is the most comprehensive federal protection of the civil rights of people with disabilities. In five titles, it covers employment rights, rights of access to public accommodations and transportation services and equivalent telecommunications services for the disabled. Titles I-III are discussed in more detail below:

Title I of the ADA-Employment: (§§12111-12117)

Stephen Rau explains how the ADA was enacted to eradicate discrimination in the workplace based on disability.

Laurie Vasichek explains a lawsuit from 2000; an employee with disabilities experienced discrimination.

This Title provides that “No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.” (§12112) For an applicant otherwise able to perform the duties of the position, it requires that the employer make “reasonable accommodations” for with disabilities. It also specifies exclusions from the Act’s coverage, employer defenses and remedies.

The EEOC is charged with enforcement of this Title’s provisions. Remedies include punitive and compensatory damages, expert fees and attorney’s fees.

Title II of the ADA-Public Services: (Part A [Prohibition against Discrimination and Other Generally Applicable Provisions]: §§12131-12134 and Part B [Actions Applicable to Public Transportation Provided by Public Entities Considered Discriminatory]: §§12141-12150)

Title II applies to all state and local governments and any of their departments, agencies or instrumentalities. It provides that “subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” It addresses issues such as accessibility and exclusionary rules, practices and equipment. (e.g. inaccessible voting venues)

The Department of Justice is charged generally with the enforcement of Title II, with the complaint then being directed to the Federal agency that provides funding for the public service charged with discrimination. Remedies are the same as under §504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and include damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.

Title III of the ADA: Public Accommodations and Services Operated By Private Entities: (§§12181-12189).

Private entities covered by this subchapter are listed in §12181. This Title provides that “no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” (§12182) It addresses issues such as accessibility, discriminatory exclusionary practices and segregation of the disabled. It also specifies exclusions from the Act’s coverage, private entity defenses and remedies.

The Attorney General is charged with the enforcement of this title and there is no individual cause of action for damages. Individuals may sue for injunctive relief, but the Attorney General must file actions for damages and civil fines. (§12188)


In 2008, the ADA was amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008, which important changes to the definition of the term “disability” specifically rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC’s ADA regulations.

Future of the ADA

Stephen Befort describes how after the 2008 ADA Amendments Act, the scope of protection was broadened to help more people.

From the United States Courts, Judiciary News, July 12, 2018

Just the Facts: Americans with Disabilities Act

The number of civil rights cases have declined in recent years. However, the number of cases brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has increased three-fold with California, Florida, and New York accounting for a significant number of those filings. The U.S. Courts began filing statistics on ADA cases in 2005 in two categories – employment discrimination and other claims. This article summarizes the facts and figures, and statistics over that time period.

From the Oregon Department of Transportation, March 28, 2017

Oregon Department of Transportation – Association of Oregon Centers for Independent Living

The Oregon Department of Transportation and the Association of Oregon Centers for Independent have entered into a Settlement Agreement to complete an inventory and specify a remediation schedule for curb ramps and pedestrian crossing signals across the state. Individuals with disabilities who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices have been forced to use bike lanes, busy streets, or highways as paths of travel; andmissing or inaccessible pedestrian crossing signal buttons presented personal safety issues.

The Agreement covers a review, assessment, and recommendations regarding policies, standards, practices, and training.  An Accessibility Consultant, meeting specific qualifications and experience, must also be retained.


Text of ADA:

EEOC resources on the ADA:

Text of ADAA:

EEOC resources on the ADAA:

Examples and Resources to Support Criminal Justice Entities in Compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (January 2017)

  1. See White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Remarks by the President During Ceremony for the Signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (July 26, 1990)