Americans with Disabilities Act — a law that protects the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, guaranteeing them equal opportunity in employment, transportation, public accommodations, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

In terms of employment, the ADA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” An individual is deemed to have a disability if he or she has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” (such as seeing, hearing, speaking, walking, breathing, performing manual tasks, learning, caring for oneself, or working). The individual must be qualified to do the job, however, in order to be protected under this law.

Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” to disabled employees. These commonly take the form of physical changes to the work space, such as placing ramps to make a building wheelchair-accessible, or making other alterations to the work space or restrooms. Making a “reasonable accommodation” might also mean providing sign language interpreters for individuals who are deaf, providing training or other written materials in Braille or an audiotape for an employee who is blind, or allowing an employee with arthritis to change work hours to accommodate morning stiffness. However, employers aren’t required to impose “undue hardship” on business operations, lower their quality or production standards, or provide personal items such as glasses or hearing aids for disabled persons. All employers with 15 or more employees, as well as all state and local governments, must comply with these measures.

The law is also designed to make public transportation (buses and trains), public accommodations (restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and theaters), state and local government services, and telephone service accessible to people with disabilities. For more information about the ADA, see the US Department of Justice publication “ADA Questions & Answers.” For a print copy of this information, call (800) 514-0301 (voice) or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).

Robert S. Dinsmoor is a medical writer and editor based in Massachusetts.

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