Americans with Disabilities Act

The Five Senses and Beyond: The Encyclopedia of Perception - Jennifer L. Hellier 2017

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. It also mandates the establishment of TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf)/telephone relay services (United States Department of Labor, 2015). The 101st U.S. Congress enacted the ADA, which was signed by President George H. W. Bush (1924—) on July 26, 1990. In 2008, President George W. Bush (1946—) signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which included some changes from the original act of 1990 and became effective on January 1, 2009.


During the late 1980s, voices to enact federal legislation to give more civil rights to Americans with disabilities gained support. Exclusion and segregation due to a person’s disability or disabilities came to be viewed as discrimination against this population in the United States. The disability community fought in the courts, streets, and media in order to broaden their civil rights in areas such as education and employment. In 1988, Connecticut Republican senator Lowell P. Weicker (1931—) and California Democratic representative Anthony Lee “Tony” Coelho (1942—) introduced the first version of the ADA to the 100th Congress in April 1988 during the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1911—2004). Subsequently a joint hearing was held before the Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy and the House Subcommittee on Select Education. In 1989, Senators Thomas Richard Harkin (1939—, Democrat, Iowa) and David Ferdinand Durenberger (1934—, Republican, Minnesota) along with Representatives Tony Coelho and Hamilton Fish IV (1926—1996, Republican, New York) introduced the new ADA bill to the 101st Congress, and it was passed into law.


The ADA of 1990 contains five titles that describe the rights and regulations protecting individuals with disabilities in the United States. Title I of the ADA prohibits private employers, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in job application, hiring, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that can substantially limit one or more major life activities. However, if the individual is capable of handling the essential functions of the job, then he or she cannot be discriminated against in selection, accommodation, and other terms and conditions. Title I also covers medical examinations and inquiries, and testing for drug and alcohol abuse. More regulations were added to the original act, such as Title II, which prohibits discrimination in public transportations. Title III of the ADA protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public accommodations such as services and facilities in education, restaurants, and recreational places. Title IV of the ADA ensures that telecommunication companies in the United States have equipment services designed for individuals with hearing impairment, and other disabilities concerned with using the telecommunication services. Lastly, Title V of the ADA contains other miscellaneous provisions that protect individuals with disabilities, including but not limited to insurance, relationship to other laws, and definitions of “reasonable accommodations and modifications.”

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

The ADA was amended in terms of defining “disability” and extended the scope of its protection to more people. The current text of the ADA includes these amendments made from the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which became effective on January 1, 2009. Originally a public law format, the ADA was republished in the United States Code, which classifies laws based on subject matter. Thus, the ADA’s titles are coded in different sections of the United States Code. Specifically, Titles I, II, III, and V can be found in the United States Code under Title 42, chapter 126, starting at section 12101, while Title IV is filed under Title 47, chapter 5.

Significance of the Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensured that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against in terms of services, privileges, opportunities, and safety in public areas, private and public employment, transportation, and telecommunications. Previously, individuals with disabilities had disadvantages in using public services as well as getting employed or reaping benefits from companies and unions. With this act, it became illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities.

Paul Hong

See also: Blindness; Color Blindness; Congenital Insensitivity to Pain; Deafness; Meniere’s Disease; Phantom Pain; Seizures

Further Reading

Mayerson, Arlene. (1992). The history of the Americans with Disabilities Act: A movement perspective. Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund. Retrieved from

United States Department of Labor. (2015). Disability resources. Retrieved from

United States Department of Labor. (2015). Disability resources: Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from