Enacted in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush, the American with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) is a federal civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis disability. The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of having such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.” With its passage, for the first time, Congress recognized that physical and mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, and curbed prejudice, antiquated attitudes, and societal and institutional barriers that people with physical or mental disabilities frequently face. As one of the most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, the ADA ensures that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Title I of the ADA (“Title I”) addresses disability discrimination in the workplace, helping individuals with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities. An important component of the ADA—and a feature that is unique among other civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964—is its requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is a change that accommodates employees with disabilities so they can do their job without causing the employer “undue hardship.” Title I also establishes guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process and addresses medical examinations and inquiries. Title I applies to employers with at least 15 employees.