Americans with Disabilities Act

What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law, signed in 1990 and amended in 2008, that protects the rights of people with disabilities and prevents discrimination on the basis of disability. It requires employers, local and state governments, and providers of public services to provide reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities.

What is considered a disability under the ADA?

The ADA does not list every disability. It defines disability as

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (i.e. working, talking, hearing, seeing, thinking, communicating, caring for one's self, major bodily functions)

  2. the record of such an impairment (for example, someone having recovered from cancer or a serious illness)

  3. being regarded by others as having an impairment (such as individuals with severe facial scarring)

According to the ADA National Network, “Examples of specific impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities include: deafness, blindness, intellectual disability, partially or completely missing limbs, mobility impairments, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia.”

What is considered a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is one that allows the person with a disability to participate in a comparable way as those without disabilities (for example, making an employee able to perform essential job functions) without imposing “undue hardship.” Undue hardship is explained by the ADA National Network as an “’action requiring significant difficulty or expense’ when considered in light of a number of factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer's operation. Organization would be considered, as well as the financial and administrative relationship of the facility to the larger organization.”

What sorts of protections are provided by the ADA?

There are five sections or titles that apply to different circumstances.

Title I applies to employment private entities of 15 employees or more

Title 2 applies to local and state governments.

Title 3 applies to public accommodations and commercial facilities.

Title 4 applies to telecommunications.

Title 5 comprises miscellaneous provisions.

Should I disclose my disability?

Disclosure is a decision that should be carefully considered by the individual on a case-by-case basis. The short answer is that if you request an accommodation, you will need to disclose your disability.

Sometimes, you might disclose your disability to an HR representative, ADA Coordinator, or Disability Services Office, but not necessarily to anyone else. For example, at OSU, if you are a student and register with Student Life Disability Services, you need to disclose your disability to SLDS but not necessarily to your professors. SLDS will request the accommodation needed for each class without revealing your name or disability. In some cases, the accommodation may require an exchange between the student and professor, but that is often not necessary for common requests.

Disclosure can be either detrimental or beneficial. Intentional or unconscious bias does happen. For example, in one study, only 5% of applicants who disclosed a disability in their resumes and cover letters were contacted by employers, and those with disabilities were contacted less than those without disabilities who had the same amount of experience. Therefore, you may not want to disclose until an interview or until an offer is made.

On the other hand, some employers will actively recruit employees with disabilities to meet Affirmative Action quotas or diversity initiatives. For example, federal employers and contractors are required to have 7% of employees with disabilities. In such cases, there may be a question on the application about whether you identify as disabled. Answering “yes” may work in your favor in such cases.

Thus, whether you disclose—and when (such as at what stage in the recruitment process)—ultimately depends on your judgment. See the Southeast ADA Center’s discussion for more information on disclosure.

Are all government-regulated disability issues covered by the ADA?

Not all disability-related issues are covered under the ADA, and in some cases, there may be overlap with other laws. For example, federally-funded programs fall under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Housing issues may fall under the Fair Housing Act. Although public transportation falls under Title III, air travel is covered by the Air Carrier Access Act. It depends on the particular circumstances which laws would apply.

How can I find out whether my situation falls under the ADA or just find out more information?

Visit, where you can read the actual regulations, find answers to frequently asked questions, and find other resources.

You can also call the government ADA hotline at 800-514-0301 (voice) or 800-514-0383 (TTY).

Additionally, you can contact the ADA Center Network at 800-949-4232 or visit for information on which regional ADA Center serves your area. Each center is a non-governmental entity dedicated to providing awareness and training to the public on ADA compliance.

Who enforces the ADA?

This depends on the regulation and circumstance in question. Generally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles employment (Title I) issues, while the Department of Justice (DoJ) handles legal suits (Title II and III).

Are any public institutions exempt from the ADA?

Religious or ministerial positions are exempt from Title I, though employees of a religious institution may still be covered under Title I if their position is not ministerial in nature. Religious institutions or entities controlled by religious institutions, including places of worship, are exempt from Title III. However, they may still be covered by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act if they have received federal funding.

Can you be protected by the ADA if you are nondisabled?

Yes. In some cases, an advocate acting on the behalf of someone with a disability may be protected by non-retaliation statutes. Also, because one way the ADA defines disability is “being regarded as having such an impairment,” the ADA may apply if a person is perceived and treated as though they were disabled, even if they do not consider themselves functionally disabled.