Ask About the ADA

I am the only HR person in a small business, how do I help our managers understand the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Small business is a critical driver in our economy and a very attractive option for those who are looking for work. The people seeking jobs include people with disabilities. However, because small business has less support from human resource professionals, they have fewer supports to understand how best to include people with disabilities in the workforce. A recent study by the Northeast ADA Center at Cornell University found that small business need support to understand the cost of accommodation and how best to provide appropriate accommodations, how to talk about disability, and how to communicate company policies that support employees with disabilities. The Small Business at Work Toolkit was designed as a resource that breaks down key components of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into an easy to use resource for small businesses. With the toolkit, you can learn more about the benefits of a business that includes people with disabilities, understand what constitutes a disability, and break down some of the myths about disability that can make including people with disabilities in a small business difficult. The Toolkit also breaks down some of the requirements of the ADA into plain language that is much easier to understand. Share the link with business owners, managers, and employees so that they can understand how and why to include people with disabilities in your small business.


Do I have to apply to be covered by the ADA?

No, there is no application process to be covered under the ADA. To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as 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. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.


Can I call the ADA?

The ADA is not an agency, organization or a service provider. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and most public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The ADA Centers, collectively known as the ADA National Network, provide information and training about the ADA and can be contacted by calling 800-949-4232. The US Department of Justice also has an ADA information line and can be contacted by calling 800-514-0301.


Does the ADA apply to grades K through 12?

Yes. Public schools are covered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Private schools are generally covered under Title III of the ADA except for those schools which are religious in nature. Schools must ensure equal opportunity and access to students with disabilities.

This is achieved in numerous ways. For example, programs such as classes or extracurricular activities must be provided in an integrated setting, unless a separate or different program is necessary to ensure an equal opportunity for a student with a disability. Schools must make reasonable modifications to policies and practices to avoid discrimination. They must offer auxiliary aids and services, such as providing braille textbooks or a sign language interpreter, to ensure effective communication for students with disabilities. Sometimes, physical changes to a school’s facilities may be necessary to provide access to its programs and services.


Does an online college class have to be accessible?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to access the services and activities of colleges and universities. Both the Department of Justice and the Department of Education recognize the need for this equal opportunity under the ADA as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Online course accessibility means that a student using a screen reader form of assistive technology can read and manipulate an online learning management system and the documents provided by faculty. It means that a student who is Deaf or hard-of-hearing has access to captions for videos and other multimedia. Accessibility in the digital environment requires thoughtful planning and preparation by institutions and faculty in how they deliver virtual learning.


Does the ADA apply to websites?

Yes, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to websites for Title II and Title III. Title II covers state and local government and their related entities while Title III addresses public accommodations such as businesses and nonprofits. The difficulty is that as of now, there are no specific standards defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ), the federal department that creates the regulations for Title II and III of the ADA. That being said, the DOJ has held for many years that the ADA does apply as shown in Chapter 5 of the ADA Best Practices Toolkit for State and Local Governments and to Title III public accommodations in its September 25, 2018 letter to Representative Ted Budd of North Carolina.


Are service animals permitted in disaster shelters?

Yes. Permitting a service animal can be a form of reasonable modification of a policy. Typically, a service animal should be permitted to go where the public is allowed to go. The handler must be a person with a disability and the animal must be a service animal under the definition from the Department of Justice; a dog that is individually trained to perform a specific task for an individual with a disability. Shelter workers are permitted to ask if the animal is a service animal needed because of a disability. And they can also ask what task the animal has been trained to perform. The handler is responsible for the care of the service animal and for making sure that the service animal acts appropriately. To learn more, read the Northeast ADA fact sheet Key Facts About Service Animals for Disaster Shelter Workers.


I own a small corner store that has double doors at the entrance. Recently, a customer told me that since the doors are not automatic they do not comply with the ADA. Is this true?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does apply to retail stores and requires accessible entrances. Providing an accessible entrance is an ADA requirement, but for a door to be accessible it does not have to be automatic, as long as it offers other key features, such as a sufficiently clear width, appropriate operable hardware, and an accessible approach area. The technical requirements for accessible doors are detailed in Section 404 of the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design.


Do I need to get a special license for my service dog to be registered as a service animal?

No. Under Title II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), covered entities such as businesses or state and local governments may not require any documentation related to a service animal. This includes any sort of proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal.

You can purchase service animal certifications or registrations online. However, these documents are neither recognized nor required by the US Department of Justice, the government department that enforces Title II and III of the ADA. Therefore, online registries or licenses have no legal weight in determining the rights of a service dog to enter public places.


Marginal Job Function

Q. One of my customer service employees just told me that they have a disability that makes it hard to use their hands for repetitive work. They asked to be released from assisting with stuffing envelopes for the mailing task we sometimes have this department help with. What should I do?

A. Because the mailing task sounds as if it is a marginal job function for your customer service team, you can remove this task as a reasonable accommodation. Marginal job functions, or those that are not the primary reason a position exists, can be eliminated from a job or reassigned to another employee. Consider assigning this employee part of this task that does not require repetitive work (i.e., organizing the mailing or printing labels) in order to balance the workload in this department.


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