What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law under President George HW Bush in 1990. It applies to all private and state businesses, employment agencies, and unions with more than 15 employees. The goal of the ADA is to ensure that no qualified person with any type of disability is turned away for a job or promotion, or denied entry to a public access area.

How is ‘disability’ legally defined? According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) website, a person with a disability is anyone who:

“1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2. Has a history of such impairment; or 3. Is considered to have such impairment.”

This definition is somewhat controversial. Some people feel the wording is so vague that a person with a “minor” problem could file frivolous lawsuits for easy money. For example, they say, a person with a stiff neck might neglect certain job duties while hiding behind the ADA. However, this argument demonstrates a couple of misunderstandings about the nature of disabilities and the rules established by this legislation.

First, it is difficult to objectively categorize health problems as “major” and “minor.” Many people live with what are called “invisible disabilities.” These are problems that are not immediately obvious to an observer because the person living with them may not need a device such as a wheelchair or cane, and may not feel any visible pain. However, these health problems can create serious obstacles for people who live with them. There are certain types of heart and muscle conditions that greatly limit how much a person can move each day. There are also mental and emotional problems that may not be visible to other people, but pose real challenges for those who live with them. An effort to protect only the rights of people with “greater” disabilities while overlooking the “less” disabled could create real problems for people deemed “not sufficiently disabled.”

Another common misconception about the ADA is that it requires companies to change their standards or over-accommodate people with physical or mental problems to the point of losing profits. The truth is, this law does not require employees to change the job description of any position. This legislation is intended for employers who will not hire or make their offices accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. For example, a studio would not be required to hire a blind photographer, but would not be allowed to turn down a photographer who uses a wheelchair simply because they do not want to build a ramp. If you have more questions about anti-discrimination laws, contact Perry Smith at http://losangeles-employmentlawyer.com.