Overview of the American Disabilities Act (ADA)

  • Crystal Mullen

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I grew up in the 70s and 80s; a time when every building, every walkway and certainly every restroom was geared toward able bodied individuals. I heard stories of my mom having to help my wheelchair-bound great-grandmother out of her chair, into a ladies room stall and then back into her chair. Certain shops were outside my great-grandmother’s ability to frequent because the door to get in was too narrow for her wheelchair or the building had to be accessed by climbing steps. If these are a few of the obstacles my great-grandmother had to overcome, I can only imagine how people who are blind, deaf, or even small statured managed to live in a world that was designed for people with two good eyes, two good ears and five feet, five inches tall. This is why I’m thankful for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) is an all-encompassing civil statute with the magnitude of a constitutional amendment. It requires equal accessibility to interact with society and equal opportunity for gainful employment. This means that restaurants offer menus in Braille. It may also means an office adjusting a workspace for an employee in a wheelchair (The Center for an Accessible Society, 2014).

As alluded to, one of the main areas that are affected by the ADA is the workplace. Employers are not allowed to discriminate against applicants who are qualified but have disabilities. This means when an employer is interviewing a job hopeful, for hire, the employer is not allowed to directly question the applicant’s disability. Furthermore, the job hopeful be given the same consideration for the job at hand as his or her able-bodied counterpart. Finally, though certainly not exhaustively, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to their employees with disabilities. If necessary, employers will need to make accommodations that are considered reasonable for employees who become disabled temporarily by providing temporary reassignment of duties (Kesee, 2014).

One of my favorite shows is the TLC reality show “The Little Couple”, Dr. Jen Arnold, who’s 3’ 2” tall is a is a doctor who works in the Neo-Natal Intensive Unit (NICU) at a hospital in Houston. In order for the hospital to accommodate the doctor’s stature, there are step ladders strategically placed throughout the NICU as well as a motorized chair quickly transport her through the long corridors of the hospital (Wikipedia, 2014). Modifications like these are required in the workplace to accommodate anyone with disabilities and those requirements are the result of the Americans Disabilities Act.

Another area that is affected by the ADA involves public transportation. Under the ADA, all modes of public transportation needs to be accessible by passengers who are wheelchair-bound or otherwise disabled. This means buses and trains must provide designated seating areas for disabled individuals. Furthermore, transit facilities are required by law to allow the entry of service animals that assist passengers onboard their vehicles of transportation. Finally, airports, train stations and bus stations are required to provide assistance when needed or when asked. These are just a few areas of transportation that are affected by the ADA (Kesee, 2014).

Finally, but not exhaustively, a third area that is affected by the ADA involves access into public buildings. Public buildings must ensure that entryways as well as restrooms can be wheelchair accessible and that its accessibility to the public meets ADA requirements. Many of the public buildings are now equipped with doors that open and close automatically so that wheelchair-bound individuals are granted entry. Furthermore, public buildings with steps need to provide wheelchair ramps. Finally, though certainly not exhaustively, public restrooms are required to provide at least one stall with that has a wider entrance necessary for wheelchair entry. Public facilities like grocery store counters or gas stations however must provide some type of assistance for disabled individuals who require assistance (Kesee, 2014). These are just a few measures mandated by the ADA open the doors to those with disabilities.

Every wide sweeping measure has its pros and cons and the ADA is no exception. There are instances where the ADA is both well-meaning yet problematic for small businesses – particularly those that are in areas where are few or no disabilities to address. One example is that businesses are mandated by the ADA to provide public spaces and ensure that disabled patrons can accesses needed spaces. This includes continuous railings be found along the stairs and ramps, the ramps need to be constructed with low grade slopes, designated and widened parking spaces and restrooms with hand railing. While I believe these mandates by the ADA are well-intentioned, these changes and modifications to a company’s infrastructure can be costly. However, if a business chooses not to comply, they face fine that far outweigh the cost for implementing the changes. For example, the Morena Business Association incurred many lawsuits for violating ADA requirements in their San Diego, California location. Because they ignored ADA mandates from 1992 to 2007 the local business was forced to pay $1 billion in fines (Holzer, 2014).


Despite the financial challenges to small businesses, I believe the ADA has positively changed society and the workplace so that everyone – regardless of their abilities can participate in society and bring value to any workplace. Last summer I had the opportunity of working with someone who was partially hearing impaired. There was a time when she would never get a job due to her disability. However, thanks to technology, she could receive communication through emails and direct face-to-face communication; she was able to perform data-entry duties along with the rest of her team. I credit the ADA with these changes to society and the workplace and these changes have made our society and workplace a more welcoming environment for all. Furthermore, I’m so thankful to get on a bus and hear bus stops audibly announced for the visually impaired. Finally, though certainly not exhaustively, I wish my great-grandmother was alive today to see she can enter any restaurant and use any restroom all by herself and with her dignity intact. Therefore, despite its flaws the ADA has provided a great amount of good for those with disabilities and even those who have two good arms, legs, eyes and ears. It benefits everyone across the country.


Holzer, D. (2014).

ADA Compliance Issues.

Retrieved March 16, 2014, from eHow.com:


Kesee, C. (2014).

American Disabilities Act.

Retrieved March 16, 2014, from eHow.com:


The Center for an Accessible Society. (2014).

The Americans with Disabilities Act.

Retrieved March 2014, 2014, from The Center for an Accessible Society.

Wikipedia. (2014).

The Little Couple.

Retrieved March 16, 2014, from Wikipedia: