The ADA: What You Need to Know

This Saturday, July 26th – we commemorate the signing of the ADA and celebrate the progress that America has made in creating equality for individuals who overcome the challenges of having disabilities every day.

But, why does the ADA matter and how can it affect me? 

Check out this video from the “What Can You Do?” campaign that reminds us all that equality for persons with disabilities is a vitality that can never be and should never have been ignored.

From its preamble to its final provision, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is about ensuring ‘equal opportunity’ for all.   And like other Federal civil rights laws, it prohibits job discrimination, which is enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Do you, a family member, friend or colleague have a disability?  The ADA primer below can help.

How does the ADA protect employees and job seekers?

Since the law became effective January 1, 2009, a number of measures have been instituted to provide a more equitable work environment. Simply stated, the ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate in all employment practices such as recruitment, hiring, promotion, discharge, pay, benefits, job training, classification, referrals, and other aspects of employment. If you have a disability and are qualified to perform the essential function of a job, the ADA protects you.

How does the ADA define “disability?”
Most often, people focus on limited physical mobility or the medical definition of disability.  However under the ADA, you have a disability if “you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits “a major life activity” such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, walking, speaking, etc.  This also means if you have challenges resulting from a hereditary condition, surgery, medical treatment (such as chemotherapy, etc.) the ADA can protect you, too.  The ADA requires that companies and organizations with more than 15 employees make reasonable accommodations for eligible people with disabilities who work in covered workplaces.

What types of “reasonable accommodations” does the ADA require?
Levels of ability and disability are unique to an individual.  Employers are learning that most often accommodations require simple, creative alternatives to the traditional way of doing things.  According to the EEOC, reasonable accommodations are modifications and adaptations employers provide such as:


ADA Limitations
It is important to note, however, that the ADA does not require employers to hire a set number of people with disabilities.  It only requires that employers give qualified people with disabilities employment opportunities equal to those given employees without disabilities. Employers are NOT required to:

  • Provide accommodations if it would cause undue hardship on the business;
  • Lower the standards of their product or service quality;
  • Purchase materials or devices that are for the employee’s personal use only, such as glasses or hearing aids;
  • Accommodate illegal drug use or alcoholism. Employers may test employees and applicants regardless of disability status.

Employers may require medical examinations before a candidate is hired. However, the examination must be a typical part of the employment process for all candidates and not just the person with a disability and must be directly related to the job functions.

Smart Job Search Strategies
During your job search, take control of your odds of success by honestly assessing your abilities.  Be sure the potential employer provides a detailed description of the job functions so you have a reasonable understanding of what is expected.  Ask yourself, “Can I successfully perform all duties with or without reasonable accommodation?” If the answer is yes, then the sky is the limit!  Check out new job opportunities at

What interview questions can a potential employer ask me?
Remember the primary purpose of the interview is to assess your ability, education, skill, work experience, licenses or certifications that are necessary to do the job.  Employers may not ask you about your disability, its nature, or the severity of the disability – even if your physical condition is apparent in person.

Questions about your prior or current illnesses, medical treatment, Workers’ Compensation claims, etc. are prohibited, as are all inquiries into your family’s medical history. Until you are offered a job, an employer is only permitted to make inquiries as to your ability to perform job-related functions.

Every person deserves the opportunity to thrive in the workplace.  As employers increasingly demonstrate their commitment to ensuring equitable opportunities for all, more people with disabilities can add value and respective careers.

To learn more about the ADA and how it protects you from discrimination, contact the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000 (toll-free) or 1-800-669-6820 (toll-free TTY number for individuals with hearing impairments) or visit

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