Ask About the ADA

Service Animals on Public Transit

Q: Are the rules for service animals different on public transportation than they are for service animals in other areas like restaurants and stores?

A: The biggest difference between the Dept. of Transportation’s (DOT) ADA regulations regarding service animals and the Dept. of Justice’s (DOJ) regulations (which would apply in areas like restaurants and retail spaces) is in the DOT definition of a service animal. For the DOT regulations, a service animal is “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items.” People with disabilities must be permitted to have their service animal accompany them on transit vehicles and in transit facilities if they meet this definition. While the DOJ definition limits the species of service animals to dogs, and in some cases miniature horses, the DOT definition of a service animal does not limit the species of animal in the same way.

To read more about what the term service animal means and where, check out the article, The ADA and Service Animals.

Broken Elevators at Transit Stations

Q: If a transit station has an elevator that breaks down, do the ADA regulations address what should be done to accommodate riders with disabilities?

A:Yes. The ADA regulations require that the transit agency “take reasonable steps to accommodate individuals with disabilities who would otherwise use the (accessibility) feature.” The regulations do not state exactly how the transit agency must provide accommodations, but whatever action is taken to address the needs of riders with disabilities must be effective for them. For example, the transit agency could notify users of the station by announcing that the elevator is out of service at other stations to alert passengers. Additionally, alternative means of accessible transportation should be offered – which may involve the use of accessible shuttle bus service around the station without elevator accessibility. It is important to remember that while temporary outages are not a violation of the ADA, the expectation is that accessibility features are inspected frequently to make sure that they are operational and if they are not, repairs must be implemented promptly.

Limits to Wheelchair Size on Buses

Q: Can a transit provider deny service to a rider based on the size of the mobility device they use?

A: The ADA DOT Regulations require that transit agencies provide service for riders with disabilities using wheelchairs. The regulations specify minimum design requirements for lifts on vehicles, which include that lifts must accommodate occupied wheelchairs weighing up to 600 pounds that are 30 inches wide and 48 inches long. Many lifts used in transportation vehicles can support additional weight (more than 600 pounds) and additional space. The transit provider must provide service to riders with disabilities that can be accommodated by the design specifications of the lift on the vehicle – meaning, to deny service to a rider because their wheelchair (when occupied) weighs more than 600 pounds, but the vehicle lift can accommodate up to 800 pounds, would be a violation of the ADA regulations. If the combined weight of the wheelchair and its occupant exceeds the lift specifications though, the transit provider is not required to provide service.

What about COVID-19?

Q. What COVID-19 resources do you recommend?

A. First, let’s acknowledge that coping with COVID-19 can be very difficult, and we hope you’re doing okay with whatever challenges brought you here today. We also want to mention that we don’t give medical or legal advice, so be sure to contact an expert if you need that sort of help.

Second, we’ve listed below some training sessions and resources that staff from the Northeast ADA Center have been involved in creating, plus some federal and regional resources.


Resources from the Northeast ADA

Federal Resources

Resources in New York

Resources in New Jersey

  • New Jersey Department of Health: This site offers updates and resources about COVID-19 as it relates to New Jersey, including essential services and employment protections.
  • New Jersey 2-1-1: By calling 211 or visiting this website, New Jersey residents can find available resources in their communities.

Resources in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

For updates about the novel coronavirus in your community, visit the website for your county’s Department of Health. If you have symptoms and worry that you have COVID-19, please contact your health care provider.


Videos for Online College Classes

Q: Must videos for online college classes have closed captions?

A: We’ve seen a lot more questions along these lines recently, as so many colleges have ramped up their online offerings. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), colleges and universities must offer their courses in a manner accessible to individuals with disabilities. To that end, they must ensure that course-related communications is equally effective for those with communication-related disabilities as for anyone else taking the class. This includes any video content provided as part of a class. Videos must be captioned with either closed or open captions.

Federal Websites and the ADA

Q: Are federal websites covered by the ADA?

A: No. Because of the way that it was written, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to federal agencies or departments in general—and that includes their websites. Instead, different sections of the Rehabilitation Act apply to different aspects of federal agencies and departments. The section of the Rehabilitation Act that covers federal websites is Section 508. Section 508 requires federal agencies to ensure that the electronic and information technology that they develop, procure, maintain, or use is accessible to people with disabilities.

More specifically, federal agencies must comply with the information and communication technology (ICT) standards created by the US Access Board. You can find out more about these standards on the IT Accessibility Laws and Policies page of the website.

More generally, even though federal websites are not covered by the ADA, they still must be accessible because of a provision in the Rehabilitation Act.

Courts and Accessible Electronic Documents

Q: I am an attorney who uses a screen reader due to my disability. I have a case in the circuit court. Must the court provide me with accessible versions of electronic documents?

A: The answer to this question is based on Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title II covers state and local government and all related instrumentalities. A state or local court system falls into this category. As such, the circuit court must make their programs, services, and activities accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities. These individuals cannot be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of the covered entity—in this case, the circuit court. Thus, if the court uses an electronic document system, then those documents must be accessible to people with disabilities, including those like yourself, who use screen readers.

As the Department of Justice stated in a settlement agreement with the Orange County Clerk of Courts in Florida,

“A public entity must also take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with qualified individuals with disabilities—including individuals seeking access to a service, program, or activity of a public entity, as well as their companions—are as effective as communications with others, and furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services, such as accessible electronic documents, where necessary to afford qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity of the public entity, consistent with the requirements of the law.”

In short, what the settlement agreement is telling us is that communication for those with disabilities, as well as their companions, must be equally effective as communication with those individuals without disabilities. To do this, a covered entity (like the circuit court), must provide auxiliary aids (like accessible electronic documents).

So, to go back to your specific question, yes, the circuit court must provide you with accessible versions of documents related to your case.

Open vs. Closed Caption Videos

Q: I am trying to make videos on my website more accessible for my customers by adding captioning. Can you explain the difference between open and closed captioning?

A: Good question. Of course, you’ll want to add captioning to your videos so people who can’t hear them can still understand the audio content by reading text on the screen as the video plays. This text should communicate the essential audio, meaning not only the spoken words, but also non-speech sounds that convey meaning or impact, like footsteps or music that helps to set the mood.

Open captioning means the text is embedded in the video itself and will always appear on the screen as the video plays—the user cannot turn the captions off. With closed captioning, the user may turn the captions on or off.

Publishing accessible videos online requires thoughtful planning, because not all media players and streaming platforms support closed captioning.

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