Americans With Disabilities Act in Business: Definition, Summary & Regulations

Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is an important employment law protecting the rights of disabled individuals. In this lesson, you will be provided a summary of the important concepts of the Act and its key provisions. A short quiz follows the lesson.


The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted by Congress in 1990 and prevents private employers, state and local governments, and labor unions from discriminating against disabled individuals in employment-related matters including, but not limited to hiring, firing, promotion, wages, benefits, and training. You should note that the Act does not apply to the federal government, which is subject to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Summary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act - or ADA - protects disabled people from employment discrimination. Employers with at least 15 employees are subject to the Act. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled job applicants or employees so long as the accommodation does not constitute an undue hardship for the employer.

It's important for you to understand the concept of a reasonable accommodation. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ''a reasonable accommodation is any change in the work environment (or in the way things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.'' Making the workplace wheelchair accessible is a simple example. Another example would be a larger computer monitor for the visually impaired.

You should also know that employers do not have to provide an accommodation if it would be an undue hardship on the employer. According to the EEOC, ''undue hardship means that the accommodation would be too difficult or too expensive to provide, in light of the employer's size, financial resources, and the needs of the business.'' Cost alone is not sufficient to establish an undue hardship. However, an employer is not required to make the specific accommodation a job applicant or employee wants. If there is more than one possible solution, the employer may pick it so long as it is reasonable.

You also need to know what a disability is for purposes of the ADA. Under the ADA, you are considered disabled under three circumstances:

  1. If you have a physical or mental condition that substantially limits one of your major life activities such as walking, sitting, standing, talking, seeing, hearing or learning.
  2. If you have a history of a disability such as cancer in remission or mental illness that has been cured.
  3. You are also considered disabled if your employer believes you have a mental or physical impairment that will last longer than six months and is minor. It's important to stress that you can be considered disabled under the ADA if an employer believes you are, even if you are not.

The ADA limits the ability of an employer to investigate or discover an applicant's disability. For example, it limits the ability of an employer to make you disclose medical impairments, disabilities, or undergo a medical exam during the job application process. However, once hired, an employer can inquire into the employee's impairments and require a medical examination to establish the need for a requested accommodation. You can also be subject to medical questions or exams if your employer believes you cannot perform the job, or perform it safely, because of a disability.

Complaints, Investigations, and Resolution

If you believe you have been discriminated against because of a disability, you may file a complaint with the EEOC. The EEOC will give your employer an opportunity to respond to your complaint, and it will perform an investigation. If the EEOC makes a finding of discrimination, then it will attempt to settle the matter with you and your employer. If settlement is not achieved, the EEOC may file a lawsuit in federal court. An employee also has a right to file a lawsuit against the employer if it disagrees with the EEOC's finding.

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