The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The ADA: Questions and Answers
- Q. What are public accommodations?
- A. A public accommodation is a private entity that owns,
operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation.
Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities,
such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices,
pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private
schools, and day care centers. Private clubs and religious
organizations are exempt from the ADA's title III requirements for
- Q. Will the ADA have any effect on the eligibility
criteria used by public accommodations to determine who may receive
- A. Yes. If a criterion screens out or tends to screen out
individuals with disabilities, it may only be used if necessary for
the provision of the services. For instance, it would be a
violation for a retail store to have a rule excluding all deaf
persons from entering the premises, or for a movie theater to
exclude all individuals with cerebral palsy. More subtle forms of
discrimination are also prohibited. For example, requiring
presentation of a driver's license as the sole acceptable means of
identification for purposes of paying by check could constitute
discrimination against individuals with vision impairments. This
would be true if such individuals are ineligible to receive
licenses and the use of an alternative means of identification is
- Q. Does the ADA allow public accommodations to take
safety factors into consideration in providing services to
individuals with disabilities?
- A. The ADA expressly provides that a public accommodation may
exclude an individual, if that individual poses a direct threat to
the health or safety of others that cannot be mitigated by
appropriate modifications in the public accommodation's policies or
procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids. A public
accommodation will be permitted to establish objective safety
criteria for the operation of its business; however, any safety
standard must be based on objective requirements rather than
stereotypes or generalizations about the ability of persons with
disabilities to participate in an activity.
- Q. Are there any limits on the kinds of modifications
in policies, practices, and procedures required by the
- A. Yes. The ADA does not require modifications that would
fundamentally alter the nature of the services provided by the
public accommodation. For example, it would not be discriminatory
for a physician specialist who treats only burn patients to refer a
deaf individual to another physician for treatment of a broken limb
or respiratory ailment. To require a physician to accept patients
outside of his or her specialty would fundamentally alter the
nature of the medical practice.
- Q. What kinds of auxiliary aids and services are
required by the ADA to ensure effective communication with
individuals with hearing or vision impairments?
- A. Appropriate auxiliary aids and services may include services
and devices such as qualified interpreters, assistive listening
devices, notetakers, and written materials for individuals with
hearing impairments; and qualified readers, taped texts, and
brailled or large print materials for individuals with vision
- Q. Are there any limitations on the ADA's auxiliary
- A. Yes. The ADA does not require the provision of any auxiliary
aid that would result in an undue burden or in a fundamental
alteration in the nature of the goods or services provided by a
public accommodation. However, the public accommodation is not
relieved from the duty to furnish an alternative auxiliary aid, if
available, that would not result in a fundamental alteration or
undue burden. Both of these limitations are derived from existing
regulations and caselaw under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
and are to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
- Q. Will restaurants be required to have brailled
- A. No, not if waiters or other employees are made available to
read the menu to a blind customer.
- Q. Will a clothing store be required to have brailled
- A. No. Sales personnel could provide price information orally
- Q. Will a bookstore be required to maintain a sign
language interpreter on its staff in order to communicate with deaf
- A. No, not if employees communicate by pen and notepad when
- Q. Are there any limitations on the ADA's barrier
removal requirements for existing facilities?
- A. Yes. Barrier removal need be accomplished only when it is
"readily achievable" to do so.
- Q. What does the term "readily achievable"
- A. It means "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out
without much difficulty or expense."
- Q. What are examples of the types of modifications that
would be readily achievable in most cases?
- A. Examples include the simple ramping of a few steps, the
installation of grab bars where only routine reinforcement of the
wall is required, the lowering of telephones, and similar modest
- Q. Will businesses need to rearrange furniture and
- A. Possibly. For example, restaurants may need to rearrange
tables and department stores may need to adjust their layout of
racks and shelves in order to permit wheelchair access.
- Q. Will businesses need to install
- A. Businesses are not required to retrofit their facilities to
install elevators unless such installation is readily achievable,
which is unlikely in most cases.
- Q. When barrier removal is not readily achievable, what
kinds of alternative steps are required by the ADA?
- A. Alternatives may include such measures as in-store
assistance for removing articles from high shelves, home delivery
of groceries, or coming to the door to receive or return dry
- Q. Must alternative steps be taken without regard to
- A. No, only readily achievable alternative steps must be
- Q. How is "readily achievable" determined in a
- A. In determining whether an action to make a public
accommodation accessible would be "readily achievable," the overall
size of the parent corporation or entity is only one factor to be
considered. The ADA also permits consideration of the financial
resources of the particular facility or facilities involved and the
administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities
to the parent entity.
- Q. Who has responsibility for ADA compliance in leased
places of public accommodation, the landlord or the
- A. The ADA places the legal obligation to remove barriers or
provide auxiliary aids and services on both the landlord and the
tenant. The landlord and the tenant may decide by lease who will
actually make the changes and provide the aids and services, but
both remain legally responsible.
- Q. What does the ADA require in new
- A. The ADA requires that all new construction of places of
public accommodation, as well as of "commercial facilities" such as
office buildings, be accessible. Elevators are generally not
required in facilities under three stories or with fewer than 3,000
square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center or
mall; the professional office of a health care provider; a
terminal, depot, or other public transit station; or an airport
- Q. Is it expensive to make all newly constructed places
of public accommodation and commercial facilities
- A. The cost of incorporating accessibility features in new
construction is less than one percent of construction costs. This
is a small price in relation to the economic benefits to be derived
from full accessibility in the future, such as increased employment
and consumer spending and decreased welfare dependency.
- Q. Must every feature of a new facility be
- A. No, only a specified number of elements such as parking
spaces and drinking fountains must be made accessible in order for
a facility to be "readily accessible." Certain nonoccupiable spaces
such as elevator pits, elevator penthouses, and piping or equipment
catwalks need not be accessible.
- Q. What are the ADA requirements for altering
- A. All alterations that could affect the usability of a
facility must be made in an accessible manner to the maximum extent
feasible. For example, if during renovations a doorway is being
relocated, the new doorway must be wide enough to meet the new
construction standard for accessibility. When alterations are made
to a primary function area, such as the lobby of a bank or the
dining area of a cafeteria, an accessible path of travel to the
altered area must also be provided.
The bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that
area must also be made accessible. These additional accessibility
alterations are only required to the extent that the added
accessibility costs do not exceed 20% of the cost of the original
alteration. Elevators are generally not required in facilities
under three stories or with fewer than 3000 square feet per floor,
unless the building is a shopping center or mall; the professional
office of a health care provider; a terminal, depot, or other
public transit station; or an airport passenger terminal.
- Q. Does the ADA permit an individual with a disability
to sue a business when that individual believes that discrimination
is about to occur, or must the individual wait for the
discrimination to occur?
- A. The ADA public accommodations provisions permit an
individual to allege discrimination based on a reasonable belief
that discrimination is about to occur. This provision allows a
person who uses a wheelchair to challenge the planned construction
of a new place of public accommodation, such as a shopping mall,
that would not be accessible to individuals who use wheelchairs.
The resolution of such challenges prior to the construction of an
inaccessible facility would enable any necessary remedial measures
to be incorporated in the building at the planning stage, when such
changes would be relatively inexpensive.
- Q. How does the ADA affect existing State and local
- A. Existing codes remain in effect. The ADA allows the Attorney
General to certify that a State law, local building code, or
similar ordinance that establishes accessibility requirements meets
or exceeds the minimum accessibility requirements for public
accommodations and commercial facilities. Any State or local
government may apply for certification of its code or ordinance.
The Attorney General can certify a code or ordinance only after
prior notice and a public hearing at which interested people,
including individuals with disabilities, are provided an
opportunity to testify against the certification.
- Q. What is the effect of certification of a State or
local code or ordinance?
- A. Certification can be advantageous if an entity has
constructed or altered a facility according to a certified code or
ordinance. If someone later brings an enforcement proceeding
against the entity, the certification is considered "rebuttable
evidence" that the State law or local ordinance meets or exceeds
the minimum requirements of the ADA. In other words, the entity can
argue that the construction or alteration met the requirements of
the ADA because it was done in compliance with the State or local
code that had been certified.
- Q. When are the public accommodations provisions
- A. In general, they became effective on January 26, 1992.
- Q. How will the public accommodations provisions be
- A. Private individuals may bring lawsuits in which they can
obtain court orders to stop discrimination. Individuals may also
file complaints with the Attorney General, who is authorized to
bring lawsuits in cases of general public importance or where a
"pattern or practice" of discrimination is alleged. In these cases,
the Attorney General may seek monetary damages and civil penalties.
Civil penalties may not exceed $50,000 for a first violation or
$100,000 for any subsequent violation.
This page was last modified on January 15, 1997.
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