Guide to Rights under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

Under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as one who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. If you believe you meet that criteria, it is important to familiarize yourself with the ADA and understand your rights under the law.

What follows is a brief description of some these important protections as well as links for further information and support should you need assistance.


The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees. If your ability to do your job is not affected, you are under no legal obligation to reveal a disability to your employer unless you plan to request special accommodations. In the workplace, you are covered under the ADA if you can perform the duties of your job with or without reasonable accommodation.

Reasonable accommodations include making facilities accessible by disabled people — with handicapped accessible parking spaces, entryways, and rest rooms, for example, and acquiring or modifying equipment. Exceptions can be made if such accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. An undue hardship would be something that requires great difficulty or expense to the employer or the business operation. There is no obligation on the part of the employer to lower standards or to provide personal use items. An employer is not obligated to assign your work to someone else.

If you believe your rights in the workplace have been violated, you can file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.


Public transportation authorities must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. For more information visit Office of Civil Rights Federal Transit Administration U.S. Department of Transportation.


Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate public facilities that must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation’s resources. Complaints about violations may be filed with the Department of Justice.

The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) requires that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, or altered with Federal funds, or leased by a Federal agency, comply with Federal standards for physical accessibility. ABA requirements are limited to architectural standards in new and altered buildings and in newly leased facilities. They do not address the activities conducted in those buildings and facilities. Facilities of the U.S. Postal Service are covered by the ABA. For more information or to file a complaint, contact U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.


It is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that individual, an individual associated with the buyer or renter, or an individual who intends to live in the residence. Other covered activities include financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising. Complaints of Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For questions about the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act contact Fair Housing Accessibility FIRST.


Discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments is prohibited. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. Requirements address a wide range of issues including boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities. For more information or to file a complaint, contact Aviation Consumer Protection Division U.S. Department of Transportation.


Polling places across the United States are required to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. States are required to make available registration and voting aids for disabled and elderly voters, including information by telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs). For more information contact U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.


Schools are required to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs. For more information contact Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education.

You can find out more about disability issues and read the associated laws in their entirety here: Americans with Disabilities Act or call the ADA Information Line (800) 514-0301 (voice) (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

Other Resources:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) – U.S. Department of Labor: Giving workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to choose to continue group health benefits provided by their group health plan for limited periods of time under certain circumstances such as voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in the hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce, and other life events. – Connecting the disability community to information and opportunities.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) – The Office for Civil Rights enforces the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which protects the privacy of individually identifiable health information, and the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule, which protect identifiable information being used to analyze patient safety events and improve patient safety. 

Social Security Disability Online – Information regarding benefits for people with disabilities. The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income disability programs are the largest of several federal programs that provide assistance to people with disabilities. While these two programs are different in many ways, both are administered by the Social Security Administration and only individuals who have a disability and meet medical criteria may qualify for benefits under either program. Benefits Eligibility Screening Tool.

Veterans Benefits Administration – U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Related Reading on Care2:

Health Care Self-Advocacy: Be the Squeaky Wheel

Keeping Track of Health Care Policy and Reform

Read my articles about life with multiple sclerosis on Care2 Healthy & Green Living



W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thanks for caring.

William C
William Cabout a year ago

Thank you for the information.

Annie Flanders
annie Flanders5 years ago

recently -- people who have gluten allergies or other food sensitivities have now been included under the ADA

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


Jane Warren
Jane Warren6 years ago

thnx for this

Joanne D.
Joanne D.9 years ago

So Many Think that access is just personal thoughtfulness

Yulan L.
Yulan Lawson9 years ago

I wish more was already in place for these special souls.

Lindy D.
Lindy D9 years ago

Good for you putting this together for many to see, Too many people are unaware of services that are available to them.

How about a petition to the government to supply all people with disabilities and their carers, details of services available and contact details for same directly? I am sure the would save a lot of unnecessary suffering.

Pamela C.
Pamela C9 years ago

I've seen handicapped spaces at doctor's offices that were further away from the door than the other spaces. I suspect the doctors were parking in the spaces that should have been marked handicapped.

Dotti W.
Dorothea W9 years ago

Handicap Parking spaces are spelled out in the law but I for one think they are inadequately defined. It is an equation i can not remember 1 space per so many ordinary spaces. I do not remember any provision as to where the spaces are put, I would imagine that is left to common sense,don't ask... I can't walk more than a few yards at a time and i do use my placard but i have been called names, and screamed at by people, and i have done my share of screaming. It is frustrating enough to have to do everything differently without being exhausted and in pain before you even start. The shopping center i frequent has all its handicap spaces near the Whole Foods and none near the 99 cent store. The healthy seem to shop at Whole foods, the crips like me at 99c, seems it ought to be reversed.
one thing you learn, it is always something