Happy Birthday ADA! A Brief History of the Law Through the Years

July 2014 marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), which was signed into law this month in 1990. The ADA, and the corresponding Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) both “prohibit discrimination and guarantee that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.”

History of the ADA and ADAAA

Recognizing that people with disabilities faced challenges in their everyday lives, in 1988 congress took upon the task to implement a law promoting equality in all aspects of life for individuals with qualified disabilities. Problems such as a lack of access to acceptable health care and simple access to physical structures were issues that the law sought to address. On July 26, 1990, the ADA was passed into law.

Disability rights reform did not begin with the passage of the ADA however. As far back as 1973, there has been a federal law prohibiting discrimination against those with disabilities (the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). The Rehabilitation Act is the law on which the ADA and ADAAA are based. The most significant aspect of the Rehabilitation Act was Section 504, which identified individuals with disabilities as a minority class subject to protection and increased scrutiny in discrimination actions.

After many hours of debate and testimony, the ADA was passed in July 1990. The law as it went into effect guaranteed that people with disabilities would have the right to continue to seek and maintain work and access to housing and physical structures. However, in 2008 the ADA was amended. Among the important changes to the law was the expansion of the definition of the term “disabled,” making it easier for individuals to prove that they have a disability and are entitled to the protections of the ADA.

Disability Discrimination Today

Despite the protections afforded by the ADA and its subsequent amendments, disability discrimination persists today. In fact, this type of discrimination is one of the more common forms of employment discrimination in today’s workforce. Employers must be reminded that discrimination or retaliation of any form based on disability is against the law, and it is important to educate managers about aspects of disability discrimination so that it can be prevented.

What is Disability Discrimination?

Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodation to employees or applicants with disabilities, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer ("undue hardship").

What Employers Can Do to Prevent Disability Discrimination

  1. Non-Discrimination Policy
    Ensure that a non-discrimination policy is in place and that it is clearly communicated to all employees.

  2.  Train Everyone
    Train everyone, but particularly managers and supervisors, on their duty to prevent disability discrimination and provide reasonable accommodations so qualified employees with disabilities can do their jobs.

  3. Respond Quickly and Effectively to Requests for Accommodations
    The duty to provide reasonable accommodation is triggered when requested by an individual or when an employer becomes aware of a disability-caused limitation. It is important to remember that an employee does not need to actually say the words “reasonable accommodation” for the duty to be triggered.

  4.  Document Everything!
    Document the accommodations considered, offered, accepted, and declined, as well as the justification for the steps taken. If adverse action is taken against an employee with a disability, make sure to document the non-discriminatory reasons why the action was taken and be prepare to back it up.

Syntrio, Inc. specializes in providing Ethics and HR Compliance Training. Contact us today at 888-289-6670.


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