ADA Frequently Asked Questions Knowledge Base - General ADA Information

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Some parts of the ADA didn’t go into effect until after that date to give entities time to comply with the law, but those compliance deadlines have passed.

Additional information on the history and background on the law is available on the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division website at: https://www.ada.gov/2010_regs.htm.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

Timeline of the Americans with Disabilities Act

According to the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) data, approximately 54 million Americans have a disability.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

Fact Sheet: Understanding Disability Statistics

The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government programs, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws, such as for Social Security Disability related benefits.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What does “regarded as” having a disability mean? 

FAQ: What does a “record of” having a disability mean? 

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA is divided into five sections called “titles.” Each title covers a different area. Title I covers employment. Title II covers state and local government programs. Title III covers places of public accommodation. Title IV covers telecommunications. Title V has several miscellaneous provisions that cover things like retaliation and attorney fees.


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What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Yes, the ADA definition of disability includes mental, as well as physical, impairments.


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FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

FAQ: What does "regarded as" having a disability mean?

Actually, what you might have heard called the “new ADA” is really called The ADA Amendments Act – or the ADAAA. After the ADA was originally passed in 1990, cases started being filed and ending up in courts. Some were appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rulings by the Supreme Court, as well as lower courts, began to narrow the definition of disability. Whether a person had a disability in order to sue became the focus of most disputes under the ADA. Congress never intended for it to be that way. The focus of the ADA was supposed to be on access and accommodation, not on whether the person really had a disability. Congress had not foreseen the ways in which the courts would narrowly interpret, and ultimately change, the definition.

So the ADAAA was passed in 2008 and essentially overturned those Supreme Court cases that narrowed the definition of disability. Congress made clear that the definition must be “construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals” with disabilities. So rather than this being a “new ADA,” it really is just going back to the way Congress meant the ADA to be when it was first written and passed in 1990.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Fact Sheet: An Employee View of the Changes from the ADA Amendments Act

What is the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

“Record of” means that the person has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, even though the person does not currently have a disability.  For example, a person who undergoes treatment for cancer then returns to work. Although the cancer may not be in remission, they have a record of having had it.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

FAQ: Can you give me an example of someone who has a “record of” a disability without having a current disability?

“Regarded as” means that the person either:

  • Has an impairment that does not substantially limit a major life activity;
  • Has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity only as a result of the attitudes of others toward them; or
  • Does not have any impairment, but is treated by an entity as having an impairment.

For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Can you give me an example of someone who is “regarded as” having a disability? 

FAQ: What are major life activities?

FAQ: Who is protected from employment discrimination?

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

Major life activities are those functions that are important to most people’s daily lives. Examples of major life activities are breathing, walking, talking, hearing, seeing, sleeping, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, and working. Major life activities also include major bodily functions such as immune system functions, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

FAQ: What does “regarded as” having a disability mean?

Sure. A man, who is in line for a promotion, has a history of cancer treatment, although his cancer is in remission. He is not given the promotion because his bosses are worried that, if his cancer returns, he won’t be able to do the job. He does not, at this point, meet the first part of the definition of disability because he does not have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. However, based on his “record of” a disability, he is being discriminated against.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

Fact Sheet: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

I’ll give you the “lawyer answer” – it depends. All people who meet the ADA definition of disability are covered by the ADA in general, but they still may not have rights under particular sections of the ADA. For example, there is a section of the ADA that deals only with employment discrimination. If a person with a disability is not employed and is not seeking employment, then that person would not necessarily be covered by that part of the ADA, although the person would be covered by other parts of the ADA.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What does "regarded as" having a disability mean?

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

FAQ:  Are alcoholics protected by the ADA?

Instead of providing a list of impairments that would “consistently,” “sometimes,” or “usually not” be disabilities, the regulations provide the ‘nine rules of construction’ to help determine what impairments constitute a disability. By applying those rules, the regulations state there will be some impairments that virtually always constitute a disability. The regulations also provide a list of examples of impairments that should easily be concluded to be disabilities.  Included in this list of examples are deafness, intellectual disability, autism, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Sources: EEOC Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and Fact Sheet on the EEOC’s Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA.   Links to these documents can be found at: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/regulations/index.cfm.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The miniature horse is not included in the definition of service animal, which is limited to dogs. However, the new ADA regulations contain a specific provision which covers miniature horses.  Businesses must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.  

Factors to assist in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated are whether:

  • the miniature horse is housebroken
  • the miniature horse is under the owner’s control
  • the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight
  • the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility

For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Service Animal Basics

Service Animals, Small Business, and Other Public Accommodations

Service Animal Misconceptions

You may ask an individual with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises (facility) if the animal is not housebroken or if the animal is out of control and the individual does not take effective action to control it.  Unwarranted and unprovoked violent behavior, such as uncontrolled barking, growling at other customers, jumping on other people, or running away from the owner are examples of unacceptable behavior.

The owner must use a harness, leash or other tether with his or her service animal unless the individual is unable to do so because of a disability or the use of these would make it difficult or unsafe for the service animal to perform tasks.  When a harness, leash or other tether are not being used, the service animal must be under the owner’s control through voice control, signals, or other effective means. 

If a service animal is removed from the premises, the individual with a disability must still be offered the opportunity to obtain goods, services, and accommodations.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Service Animal Resource Hub

Service Animal Basics

Service Animals, Small Business, and Other Public Accommodations

FAQ: What are some common misconceptions about service animals?

The Regional ADA Centers do not provide direct attorney referrals.  The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and Client Assistance Programs (CAP).  There is a P&A/CAP agency in every state and U.S. territory as well as one serving the Native American population in the four corners region.  Collectively, the P&A/CAP network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.  To find your local Protection and Advocacy agency and Client Assistance Program in each state, go to - http://www.ndrn.org/en/ndrn-member-agencies.html

Your state or local bar association may also provide a good starting point in the search for legal advice or representation.  To find your local bar association, go to https://www.americanbar.org/ , or call 1-800-285-2221


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Federal Agencies and Resources

Online Form for Training Requests

Beginning on March 15, 2011, under Titles II and III of the ADA, the definition of a service animal is: "A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability." 

Examples of service animal tasks include:

--Guiding a person who is blind.

--Pulling a wheelchair.

--Alerting a person who has a seizure disorder.

--Providing physical support and assistance with balance and stability.

--Assisting persons with psychiatric and neurological disabilities by preventing or interrupting impulsive or destructive behaviors

--Providing a safety check or a room search for a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

An animal that provides only emotional support, comfort, therapy, or crime prevention is not considered a service animal under the ADA. A service animal is a working animal; not a pet. Laws similar to the ADA, as well as local states; counties; and cities, may have different and more broad definitions of "service animal." Check with your local ADA Center.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources: 

Fact Sheet: Service Animals

Service Animal Resource Hub

Service Animal or Emotional Support Animal: What is the Difference?

To determine if an animal is a service animal, you may ask two questions:

  1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
  2. What work or task has the dog been trained to  perform?

You may not ask these questions if the need for the service animal is obvious. Examples include when a dog is guiding an individual who is blind or is pulling a person’s wheelchair. In addition:

  • You may not ask about the nature or extent of an individual’s disability
  • You may not require proof that the animal has been certified, trained or licensed as a service animal
  • You may not require the animal to wear an identifying vest or tag
  • You may not ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the task or work

Under the ADA, it is training that distinguishes a service animal from other animals. Some service animals may be professionally trained; others may have been trained by their owners.  However, the task that the service animal is trained to do must be directly related to the owner’s disability.

The handler is responsible for the care and supervision of his or her service animal. If a service animal behaves in an unacceptable way and the person with a disability does not control the animal, a business or other entity has the right to ask that the dog be removed. A business also has the right to deny access to a dog that disrupts their business or poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others. For example, if a service dog barks repeatedly or growls at customers, it could be asked to leave.

Service animals in-training are not specifically addressed in the ADA.  However, some state laws may afford service animals in-training the same protections as service animals that have completed their training.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Service Animal Basics

Service Animal FAQs

FAQ: What must I do when an individual with a service animal comes to my business?

An OPDMD is any mobility device powered by batteries, fuel, or other engines that is used by individuals with mobility disabilities for the purpose of locomotion, whether or not it was designed primarily for use by individuals with mobility disabilities. OPDMDs may include golf cars, electronic personal assistance mobility devices, such as the Segway® Personal Transporter (PT), or any mobility device that is not a wheelchair, which is designed to operate in areas without defined pedestrian routes. Covered entities must make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, or procedures to permit individuals with mobility disabilities to use OPDMDs unless the entity can demonstrate that the class of OPDMDs cannot be operated in accordance with legitimate safety requirements adopted by the entity.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

Power Driven Mobility Services

Fact Sheet: Wheelchairs and other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Fact Sheet: The ADA & Accessible Ground Transportation

A public accommodation is a private entity that owns, operates, leases, or leases to, a place of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include a wide range of entities, such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, amusement parks, private schools, and day care centers. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt from the ADA's title III requirements for public accommodations.


For additional information, take a look at the following resources:

FAQ: Is it expensive to make all newly constructed places of public accommodation and commercial facilities accessible?

FAQ: What funding assistance is available for removing barriers and accommodating customers with disabilities?

The ADA does not cover the executive branch of the Federal government. The executive branch continues to be covered by title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination in services and employment on the basis of disability and which is a model for the requirements of the ADA. The ADA, however, does cover Congress and other entities in the legislative branch of the Federal government.


For additional information, take a look at the following resource:

Fact Sheet: An Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act