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What Is the Americans With Disabilities Act?

The ADA assures your child access to public buildings and programs


Student Walking and Another in a Wheelchair in a Corridor in a University
Photo by Rayman/Getty Images

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which seeks to find a broader place for people with disabilities in U.S. businesses, workplaces and schools, became law on July 26, 1990. It reads in part:

(a) Findings. The Congress finds that

(1) some 43,000,000 Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities, and this number is increasing as the population as a whole is growing older;

(2) historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem;

(3) discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services;

(4) unlike individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or age, individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability have often had no legal recourse to redress such discrimination;

(5) individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities;

(6) census data, national polls, and other studies have documented that people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally;

(7) individuals with disabilities are a discrete and insular minority who have been faced with restrictions and limitations, subjected to a history of purposeful unequal treatment, and relegated to a position of political powerlessness in our society, based on characteristics that are beyond the control of such individuals and resulting from stereotypic assumptions not truly indicative of the individual ability of such individuals to participate in, and contribute to, society;

(8) the Nations proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self- sufficiency for such individuals; and

(9) the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity.

(b) Purpose. It is the purpose of this Act

(1) to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(2) to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities;

(3) to ensure that the Federal Government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in this Act on behalf of individuals with disabilities; and

(4) to invoke the sweep of congressional authority, including the power to enforce the fourteenth amendment and to regulate commerce, in order to address the major areas of discrimination faced day- to- day by people with disabilities. ... Full text

The ADA obligates any entity accepting public funds -- including private schools, if they have lunch programs or other assistance provided by the government -- to ensure that people with disabilities have access to and can safely use its services. For a school, the necessary accommodations may be written up in a 504 plan.

To comply with the ADA, an organization would be required to make an existing program available to a person with disabilities, not create a new program. Compliance may involve ramps and lifts to make buildings accessible to those in wheelchairs; medical personnel to allow children with chronic illnesses to participate in activities; or equipment that permits those with communication or learning problems to benefit from instruction.

For more information on the ADA as it applies to specific situations, visit the government's ADA Homepage.


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