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Five Things You May Not Know About the Americans with Disability Act

Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of legislation that has had a profound impact on the lives of millions of Americans, protecting their rights and prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

In this blog, we delve into five things you may not know about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

1. 'Disability' has a wide-ranging definition

ADA's definition of a disability differs from a medical definition that may be used when, for example, determining insurance coverage.

The definition is legal and specifically refers to whether an individual should have reasonable accommodations made for them.

An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

2. It's both vague - and specific

ADA famously requires businesses to make 'reasonable accommodations' and prohibits 'undue burden' being placed on those living with disabilities. And while this can lead to some confusion, it allows the law to expand and remain relevant to individuals with a broad range of disabilities.

Conversely, the ADA includes comprehensive accessibility standards for nearly every type of building and facility ranging from elementary schools to correctional facilities.

3. ADA has global implications

The ADA's principles have served as a model for disability rights legislation in other countries. Since 2000, more than 180 countries have passed legislation directly inspired by the ADA including the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Italy, Japan and Sweden.

4. The act continues to evolve

Following its enactment, disability activist Justin Dart (who was often referred to as the 'Godfather of the ADA') published a statement in a special edition of Worklife which reflected:

'ADA is only the beginning. It is not a solution. Rather, it is an essential foundation on which solutions will be constructed.'

Indeed, the Americans with Disability Act has changed significantly since it was first passed, being subject to both supreme court decisions and successive acts such as the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) passed in 2008.

5. ... and is relevant in the information age

While Title IV of ADA required telephone, cable and internet companies to provide telecommunication services and closed captioning, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (2010) went further, expanding requirements to make instant messaging and other services accessible.

Most recently, the FCC voted to adopt a Report and Order clarifying that interoperable video conferencing services must be accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities as advanced communications services - such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

Americans with Disabilities Act Zoom
ADA - still relevant in the age of Zoom

The Americans with Disabilities Act is much more than just a legal framework; it is a symbol of progress and inclusivity. Its impact reaches far beyond the United States, championing the rights of individuals with disabilities and inspiring change on an international scale.


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