Title II of the ADA

LaWanda H. Cook May 26, 2020

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to all programs, services, and activities operated by, on behalf of, or with the substantial support of state or local government. This blog post provides a brief summary of Title II and provides resources for learning more about rights and responsibilities under the law.

Covered Entities

Title II of the ADA relates to public entities. Public entities include state and local governments, courts, legislatures, towns, cities, counties, school districts, public colleges and universities, water districts, special purpose districts, regional transit authorities, and other state and local government offerings.

Overachieving Principles

As a civil rights law, the ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination in eligibility for and participation in the programs, services and activities of Title II entities. People with disabilities must be able to obtain or enjoy “the same goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations” that are provided to other members of the public.

Equal Opportunity

People with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to participate in public entities’ programs, services, and activities even if the perceived benefits are not the same as those for participants without disabilities. For instance, if a town offered an aerobic dance class and someone who used a wheelchair wanted to participate, the person would have a right to do so, as long as they met legitimate, nondiscriminatory eligibility criteria that applied to all participants.


A key goal of the ADA is integration of people with disabilities in community life. A person with a disability must be integrated to the greatest extent appropriate for that person. In the previous example, if the town offered a seated aerobics class targeted to people with physical impairments, they could not require a person who uses a wheelchair to attend this class, rather than the “regular” class.

Effective Communication

To ensure that communication barriers do not impede participation of people with hearing, visual, or speech disabilities, entities may need to provide auxiliary aids and services that result in effective communication. Examples include qualified interpreters on-site or through video remote interpreting (VRI) services, written materials, assistive listening devices, large-print materials, audio recordings, and exchange of written notes or typed communication. The type of aid will depend on the person’s communication method, and the length, complexity, and context within which the communication is taking place. Title II entities are required to give “primary consideration” to the type of auxiliary aid or service requested by the person with the disability.

Physical Accessibility

New construction and alterations must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities even if a specific use type is not listed in the Standards. Entities must comply with either the 1991 or the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, depending on when the construction or alteration occurred.

Program Accessibility

Older buildings are not “grandfathered in” under the ADA. Even in situations where full physical accessibility is not readily achievable, an entity must ensure access to all of its offerings. Programs, services, and activities, when “viewed in their entirety” must be readily accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. This is referred to as program accessibility. A public entity is not necessarily required to make each of its existing facilities accessible. For example, a city’s library has three locations—two are physically accessible and one is not. If the same programs and services are provided in all locations, and the travel time to the accessible libraries is comparable to the travel time to the inaccessible library, then the city has provided program accessibility. When adjustments are needed for program access, this can be accomplished through different methods such as making physical alterations to existing facilities, acquiring or constructing additional facilities, relocating a service or program to an accessible facility, or changing a policy or procedure.

Administrative Requirements

To prioritize efforts toward ADA compliance and ensure that people with disabilities are receiving equitable services, Title II entities of all sizes are required to conduct a self-evaluation of all programs and services to identify possible barriers to participation by people with disabilities. Additionally, entities with 50 or more employees must take the following steps, which are also useful for smaller entities:

  • Develop a Transition Plan that identifies architectural barriers to access to programs and services;
  • Designate an “ADA Coordinator” with authority to make decisions and take action on ADA-related matters;
  • Establish and publicize a grievance process for handing ADA-related complaints; and,
  • Notify the public of the grievance process across multiple platforms (print, auditory, screenreader accessible website, etc).

Additional Resource

ADA Guide for Small Towns