Twenty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. This landmark civil rights law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, and other areas such as access to public places. Since then, the ADA has helped people with disabilities fulfill the American vision of equal opportunity for all.
One way the ADA achieves equality in employment for people with disabilities is by requiring employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” when necessary for them to perform the essential functions of the job. These can be as simple as a ramp to enter a building, a computer program to convert written words into speech, or a quick work break to monitor blood sugar or take medicine. Of course, the usual anti-discrimination provisions—no harassment on the basis of disability, no refusing to hire or promote someone due to disability—apply as well.
The EEOC takes a multi-pronged approach to combating employment discrimination because of disability, including educating the public—disabled people, other employees and employers alike—about the law’s provisions in meetings, publications, and on its website; investigating charges of disability discrimination; mediating to resolve complaints informally; and litigating cases in federal court. The majority of disability discrimination charges are resolved at the administrative level and never get to federal court.
The growing need for this law can be seen in these statistics:
Because some courts took a narrow view of the ADA’s provisions, especially who could be considered as disabled under the law, Congress responded in 2008 by passing the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). This law made clear that courts needed to focus their attention on the illegal discrimination – not on whether the victim was disabled within the meaning of the law.
With the new tools of the ADAAA, the EEOC will continue its rigorous enforcement of these important laws, ensuring that employment be based on abilities, not denied due to disabilities.