Everything Employers Need to Know About the American Disabilities Act

The American Disabilities Act (ADA), first passed, is a wide-sweeping civil rights law that prohibits the discrimination of individuals with disabilities. The ADA defines a disability as a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activity.” As the Civil Rights Act passed in the 1960s gave  equal employment opportunities to everyone despite an employees’ race or sex, the ADA is important in that it affords important rights and protections to a group of individuals who are commonly discriminated against in work settings. The Act, as amended in 2008, affords broader rights and protections to disabled workers. The amendment also allowed many disabled workers to “turn back the clock” on former rulings that were considered too restrictive by Congress. In addition, due to this amendment, ADA cases against employers have been on the rise.

In order to properly comply with all relevant regulations set forth by the ADA and avoid dehumanization of disabled workers in the work environment, employers should carefully review all major components and sections of the ADA.

ADA and Employers

Disabled workers commonly sue employers due to the lack of handicap-accessible facilities. According to Title II of the ADA, all employers must comply with all ADA Standards for Accessible Design and programmatic access. For example, this includes wheelchair accessible hallways, elevators and doorways. Signs should also include Braille signage for the legally blind, as well as audio signals at pedestrian crossings. The ADA also requires that disabled workers have reasonable access to important types of training and equipment at work. This means that workers with disabilities should be able to equally access different types of equipment, such as computers and factory equipment. There should also be assistive technology available for the visually impaired, such as computers that “echo” Braille display. Some offices also provide computerized note takers, which allow visually impaired individuals to take notes during staff meetings. Assistive technology can also include large print programs that allow low-vision computer users access to software applications. All disabled workers should also have easy keyboard access; some disabled workers use speech recognition systems that replace data entry on a physical keyboard.

Reasons for Major Lawsuits

The most common reasons for ADA lawsuits against employers include:

  • Missing signage or incorrect/outdated signage information.
  • Parking: improper slope and incorrect dimensions (usually too narrow).
  • Missing accessible routes: improper slope, hazardous route conditions.
  • Curb ramps have improper slopes.
  • Bathrooms have incorrect dimensional features and fixtures.
  • Pedestrian ramps are missing handrails and level landings.
  • Stairs have open rises, missing stripping and uneven trends.
  • There is a lack of fixed seating access for the disabled.
  • Doors have inadequate strike clearing, with excessing opening force required (i.e., no automatic door that opens).
  • Exits have improper or no signage.

As each of these ADA features are critical in creating safe and accessible work environments for the disabled, employers should make every effort to meet these requirements. And while some employers have good intentions, many do not carefully review the ADA and are not aware of specific design regulations. For example, recently the owner of Corning Auto Center was sued for not including a handicap parking space, because he thought that this was only required for parking lots built after the ADA was passed.

Guides for Employers

The following is a brief list of informative resources that employers can use to help guide them through the most critical components of the ADA:

  • ADA National Network: The ADA National Network provides a list of national projects that are currently working to further understand and implement the Act. This website includes a general background on the ADA, as well as employment/employer specific requirements.
  • Americans With Disabilities Act, SBA Initiatives: This website, which link users to the Small Business Administration guide, is specifically geared towards small business owners in the US.  It includes information on how ADA regulations impact small business, how to define “reasonable accommodations,” and where to find additional resources for small businesses that want to be in compliance with ADA.
  • Disability & HR: Tips for HR Professionals: This website features articles, checklists, a glossary and other links to useful resources to help HR professionals build inclusive workplaces in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).                 
  • Disability Law Resource Project: The Disability Law Resource Center provides important information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and specifically, how to interpret and enact regulations related to accessible information technology.

ADA regulations are critical, as they help ensure protections and rights for workers with disabilities. Rather than perceiving violations merely in terms of monetary lawsuits, employers should comply with the ADA in order to provide equal and fair access to capable, disabled workers. Those who do comply with ADA standards in their respective industries and treat all workers humanely should be commended, as many employers choose to “look the other way” and bypass important ADA regulations.