The stimulus for the ADA began with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. Advocates for the disabled watched as the federal government became involved with the protection of racial minorities, and began to seek protection for their community as well. The beginning steps of the ADA, as we know it today, were laid by the passage of section 504, of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibited discrimination against someone with a disability who received public assistance. However, section 504 did not cover discrimination by employers or the private sector. In April 1988, a draft bill prepared by the National Council on Disability was introduced as the first version of the ADA to the 100th Congress, with the main purpose of the bill being to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The bill, as most usually encounter, went through several revisions before receiving a Senate vote of 76 to 8 on September 7, 1989. The bill went on to the House, and on January 23, 1990, the 101st Congress passed the “Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990”, which consists of five titles: Title I – Employment, Title II – Public Services, Title III – Public Accommodations, Title IV – Telecommunications, and Title V – Miscellaneous Provisions. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, with the effective date for the employment provisions in Title I of the ADA taking place on July 26, 1992.
Through the ADA we have come to see that people with disabilities are no longer “out of sight, out of mind” as society may have once positioned them to be. Instead, we are shown that they want to and are capable of working, and that they want to and are able to be members of society and their communities. There are an estimated 50 million Americans who have a disability, which can be defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment. Business owners are affected both on the employment side and provider side of the ADA, in order to be in compliance. Business owners must be proactive and accommodate their customer’s needs equally, by actively seeking and implementing solutions that are easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense, for their customers with disabilities. The most recent updates to ADA, for which business owners may need to make alterations for their customers, include effective communication, mobility devices, service animals, and entry barriers. The ADA doesn’t just affect businesses in terms of assisting customers, but also when it comes to employment. Businesses with 15 or more employees are forbidden from discrimination against “qualified individuals (an individual, who with or without reasonable accommodation can perform the essential functions of the job in question) with disabilities” in hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and all other aspects of employment and employment related activities, such as fringe benefits. (Please note that PEO’s use a co-employment model, and therefore businesses with fewer than 15 employees who are contracted as a larger pool of employees within a PEO, may or may not be viewed as having more than 15 employees and subject to the guidelines of the ADA, depending on the unique circumstances of their contract with the PEO. In addition, individual states may also have a unique set of laws regarding disabilities that exist in addition to the federal ADA that may supersede federal guidelines, to which employers may be subject.) Employers are also required to make a reasonable effort to accommodate the applicant or employee, as long as it does not impose undue hardship on the business, so that otherwise qualified applicants and/or employees with disabilities can work and compete with their peers. However, employees with disabilities may be disciplined or dismissed for incompetence or acts of misconduct in the same manner as other employees, regardless of whether they have disabilities.
As with any legal matter, there are strict guidelines, but ultimate decisions regarding the ADA are in fact legal matters and decided within the courts. Each business, individual, and circumstance is unique, and while the ADA law is intact all matters regarding it are in fact due to interpretation by legal representation. HR Strategies continually provides our clients with the information necessary to handle any matters arising from and with the Americans with Disabilities Act, based upon legal counsel provided to us. We are hopeful that this has given you some background and insight into exactly what the ADA can mean to all of us.