Ask About the ADA

Who is protected under the ADA?

Any individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; has a record of having such an impairment; or is regarded as having such an impairment is protected by the ADA. Major life activities can include, but are not limited to, walking, hearing, seeing, breathing, etc.


Is there a list of disabilities that are covered under the ADA?

It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for Social Security Disability related benefits.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.


What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. 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 all public and private places that are open to the 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 is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life. Title I covers employment, Title II covers state and local government, Title III Public Accommodations and Services Operated by Private Entities, Title IV applies to telecommunications and finally Title V, which contains miscellaneous provisions.



I noticed that snow has been plowed into the accessible parking space(s) at my grocery store. Isn't this an ADA violation?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III Regulations include a responsibility “to maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities” (§ 36.211). This obligation to “maintain” accessible features is what would prohibit the dumping of snow into accessible parking spaces, which renders the accessible parking spaces unusable by people with disabilities. A best practice for snow removal policies would be to prioritize the removal of snow from accessible parking spaces given the importance of this accessible design feature for people with disabilities that may not be able to access the grocery store if not for the availability of accessible parking that is available close to the store’s entrance.



Do cities and towns have to keep sidewalks clear of snow?

Public entities (like cities or towns) have a responsibility to maintain accessible features that they control under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes clearing snow from accessible routes of travel. While the ADA does not mandate an exact period of time (i.e., 12 hours, 24 hours, etc.) when snow must be removed, the expectation is that snow removal on accessible routes is prioritized in order to provide access for pedestrians with disabilities.


Can the use of an accessible parking space be restricted for a limited amount of time?

The only instance when the use of an accessible parking space can be limited to a certain amount of time would be if those same time restrictions are applied to the entire parking area. Implementing policies that limit how long someone can use an accessible parking space, while the use of other parking spaces in the same area is not time restricted, would not provide equal access for people with disabilities to the parking area.



If a business charges for its parking lot access, does someone with a disabled parking placard have to pay?

If a business charges all individuals (including those without disabilities) for parking lot access, then yes, the business owner can charge people with disabilities for parking access. What would be a violation of the ADA would be to charge people with disabilities more for the same service than what individuals without disabilities are charged for the same service or privilege. The ADA Standards for Accessible Design apply to the parking lot, so the required number of accessible parking spaces must be provided in the lot. While some states and/or municipalities have enacted legislation that allows additional parking time in certain areas at a discounted rate for people with disabilities, this is not a requirement under the ADA.



Is a service animal in training afforded the same rights as a fully trained service animal?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal in training is not recognized as a service animal and therefore would not be given the same rights to access places of public accommodation. It is important to note that individual states can offer additional protections beyond the ADA. As an example, New York State allows for a recognized professional trainer to have a service animal in training in places of public accommodation. The rule of keeping the service animal under control would still be applicable. Individuals should check the state and local law where they live.



Service Animals and Vests

Q: Does a service animals need to wear a vest that identifies it as service animal?

A: No, a simple leash or harness is all that is required for a service animal. A service animal must always be under the control of its handler. No identifiers for a service animal such as a vest or an ID card are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or state and local laws.



The difference between service animals, emotional support animals, or therapy animals can be confusing. Are they all covered under the ADA?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal is defined as a dog, and sometimes a miniature horse, that has been trained to complete a specific task relative to the needs of an individual’s disability.

Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals are not considered service animals under the ADA. While these animals serve a role in companionship, relieving loneliness, and mitigating the effects of some mental health conditions, they do not have special training to perform specific tasks that assist people with disabilities.


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