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Accessibility and the ADA

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits employers from discriminating against potential job applicants or current employees in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions, discipline, and job advancement. The ADA also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who complain about being discriminated against. The ADA applies to private employers with at least 15 employees. In addition, the ADA also applies to state and local governments. Federal employees are protected by the ADA’s nondiscrimination standards under section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The protections of the ADA are not limited to protecting employees from discriminatory acts by their employers. Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation. The text of the ADA states:

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.

This has implications for businesses, both large and small. In its plain language, the ADA requires that places of public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, parking garages, and movie theaters, to name a few, be readily accessible and usable by individuals with disabilities. Places of public accommodation are required to remove architectural barriers in existing facilities where it is “readily achievable” to do so. “Readily achievable” means “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense” Examples of architectural barriers include steps, doorways that are very narrow, and lack of handicap-accessible parking spaces. Installing ramps, railings, and re-striping parking lots, are examples of modifications that may be considered readily achievable under the ADA. Under the ADA, the removal of architectural barriers is an ongoing obligation.

Accessibility barriers extend to technology; the barriers to access are not just architectural in nature. Braille menus are an example of an accessibility barrier that is not bricks and mortar based. Websites are another example. The Department of Justice (DOJ)has made it clear that it interprets the ADA as applicable to websites. Just as poorly designed buildings create accessibility issues, individuals with disabilities frequently encounter online barriers to access. Whether it be a physical or “virtual” barrier, the ADA affords protections to individuals with disabilities.