Working Americans with disabilities are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was authored and sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and was enacted by the United States Congress in 1990. President George H. W. Bush signed it into law on 26 July 1990, and it was later amended on 1 January 2009. The ADA has allowed the progression of more positive views towards disability in the workplace.
The ADA provides protection to Americans with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination against disabilities in the workplace. The protection provided by the ADA is similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin and other characteristics.
The ADA defines disability as “… a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The determination of the eligibility of a particular condition for disability depends on the particular circumstances of each case, although certain specific conditions have been excluded as disabilities, such as substance abuse and visual impairment that can be corrected by prescription lenses.
Title I of the ADA prohibits employers, whether private, state or local government, employment agencies, or labor unions, from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities. The protection extends to job application, hiring, firing, promotion, training, and other conditions of employment.
A qualified individual is defined as one who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform essential functions of the job in question. Reasonable accommodation is defined to include: 1) making existing facilities readily accessible by persons with disabilities; 2) job restructuring or modifying work schedules; or, 3) acquiring or modifying equipment, devices, examinations, training materials, or policies.
An employer is required by the ADA to provide reasonable accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s business. An “undue hardship” is defined as an action that requires significant difficulty or expense, relative to the employer’s financial resources and nature of operation.
Employers are not required to lower quality standards to make a reasonable accommodation. The ADA also makes it illegal to retaliate against individuals who oppose employment practices that discriminate based on disability, or employees who file discrimination charges, or participate in investigations and proceedings under the ADA.
To provide support for the employers, the ADA also provides for federal tax incentives for employers to hire people with disabilities and promote the accessibility of public accommodations.
These include: 1) tax credit for small businesses that provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities; 2) work opportunity tax credit for employers who hire from individuals referred from vocational rehabilitation agencies and individuals who receive supplemental security income; and 3) architectural/transportation tax deduction for businesses that remove barriers for people with disabilities, such as providing accessible parking spaces, improving wheelchair accessibility for telephones, water fountains and restrooms, and making entrances accessible.
There is still some debate on whether or not the ADA has significantly benefited the people with disabilities. Proponents of the law claim that it has made significant strides in increasing accessibility and providing protection to people with disabilities, while detractors say that it has discouraged employers from hiring people with disabilities due to the increased economic burden.