The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides comprehensive civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities in the areas of employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
The ADA protects qualified individuals with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities. An individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having such impairment. Major life activities is defined as functions such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. Under the ADA, a qualified individual with a disability is an individual with a disability who meets the essential eligibility requirements for receipt of services or participation in programs or activities. Whether a particular condition constitutes a disability within the meaning of the ADA requires a case-by-case determination.
Physical or mental impairments include, but are not limited to: visual, speech, and hearing impairments; mental retardation, emotional illness, and specific learning disabilities; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; orthopedic conditions; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; and contagious and non contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic).
The ADA prohibits:
• In Title I discrimination in employment
• In Title II discrimination in the provision of state and local government programs, services and benefits
• In Title III discrimination by private businesses, insurance providers and other entities that operate places of “public accommodation”
The ADA is designed to integrate people with disabilities fully into the mainstream of American life. It protects:
• People who currently have a disability
• People who have a history of a disability
• People who are regarded as having a disability by others, whether or not they actually have a disability
• People who are not they disabled but who encounter discrimination on the basis of their association or relationship with a person who has a disability – for example the parents of children with disabilities
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has enforcement responsibility for enforcement of the ADA for state and local health care and human service agencies.
Since the federal Fair Housing Act was amended by Congress in 1988 to add protections for persons with disabilities and families with children, there has been a great deal of litigation concerning the Act’s effect on the ability of local governments to exercise control over group living arrangements, particularly for persons with disabilities. The Department of Justice has taken an active part in much of this litigation, often following referral of a matter by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
The Fair Housing Act prohibits a broad range of practices that discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability. The Act does not pre-empt local zoning laws. However, the Act applies to municipalities and other local government entities and prohibits them from making zoning or land use decisions or implementing land use policies that exclude or otherwise discriminate against protected persons, including individuals with disabilities.
Under the Fair Housing Act it is unlawful:
To utilize land use policies or actions that treat groups of persons with disabilities less favorably than groups of non-disabled persons.
To take action against, or deny a permit, for a home because of the disability of individuals who live or would live there.
To refuse to make reasonable accommodations in land use and zoning policies and procedures where such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons or groups of persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing.
Precisely what constitutes a reasonable accommodation is determined on a case-by-case basis. The government does not consider all requested modifications of rules or policies are considered reasonable. If a requested modification imposes an undue financial or administrative burden on a local government, or if a modification creates a fundamental alteration in a land use and zoning scheme, it is not a “reasonable” accommodation.