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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title 1: Employment

Tools for Inclusion 5


Originally published: 6/1998

Suggested audiences:


This newsletter focuses on the highlights of Title I, the employment section of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It is not meant to be an exhaustive legal review, but rather a quick look at key concepts. More specific information can be obtained from the resources mentioned at the end of this article. The essence of the ADA and employment is simple, yet elegant. People with almost any disability (physical, cognitive, emotional, history of substance abuse) who are qualified to do the essential parts of a job, cannot be discriminated against in employment solely on the basis of their disability. Title I goes beyond previous legislation that protects people from racial, ethnic, religious, age and gender discrimination which assumes that if people were treated equally, the results would be fair. The presumption of the ADA is that if you treat people with disabilities exactly the same as everyone else, the results would not be fair because disabilities often interfere with what people can do or where they can go. Title I assumes that fair treatment in employment may involve some sort of reasonable accommodation so that people with disabilities can work successfully.

Which employers are affected by the ADA?

After July 26, 1994, all employers with 15 or more employees are covered by the law. Massachusetts and other states have laws similar to the ADA affecting smaller employers. In Massachusetts employers with six or more employees are affected by the law.

What aspects of employment are covered by the ADA?

Virtually all aspects of employment, from the job application process to hiring and firing practices, as well as actual working conditions, are governed by the ADA. It covers non-work facilities, such as the cafeteria, employee lounge or auditorium, and all employment-related programs and services.

Can an employer ask about the disability or health of a worker?

No. Employers may ask questions only if they directly pertain to an individual's ability to do the job. Medical examinations can be given after the person has been offered the job, but only if they are required for everyone working at the same kind of job.

What is "reasonable" accommodation?

There is no hard and fast definition about what is considered reasonable. The employer is not required to suffer "undue hardship" (i.e., something that is very costly or that would not meet the employer's production standards) to accommodate an individual. Since there is no firm definition, employers should consider each request individually. The best advice for an employee with a disability is: Don't hesitate to ask. Employers are only required to make an accommodation if a request is presented to them. This question may be raised during the interview, after a job offer is received or at any time during the period of employment.

How accommodating does an employer have to be?

The employer must make a good faith effort to meet job-related needs but is not required to keep making changes or to find the best possible job accommodation. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to employ their own resources, including people who use assistive devices or co-workers who are familiar with the job, to investigate accommodation ideas and to offer alternatives to their employers.

What are some examples of accommodations that might be made?

Examples include providing an interpreter during the job interview, altering work schedules, exchanging duties with other workers, making workplaces physically accessible, installing special communication devices and relaxing rules.

Does the ADA require employers to hire people with disabilities?

No. No one is automatically entitled to any job just because they have a disability. Employers must first consider if the applicant meets the basic job qualifications, such as education or work experience. A person with a disability must be able to perform the essential job functions, either with or without reasonable accommodation. The person does not have to be able to perform the nonessential or marginal functions of the job.

What if you think that you're being discriminated against?

Keep a record of the particular circumstances of your situation and contact the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) at (617) 727-3990. Or contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission listed below.


Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20507
(800) 669-4000 (Voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TTY)

Office of Disability Employment Policy
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
(202) 693-7880 (Voice)
(202) 693-7881 (TTY)
(202) 693-7888 (Fax)

Disability Law Center
11 Beacon Street, Suite 925
Boston, MA 02108
617 723-8455 (Voice)
617 227-9464 (TTY)
22 Green Street
Northampton, MA 01060
(413) 584-6337 (Voice)
(413) 586-6024 (TTY)

Job Accommodation Network
West Virginia University
P.O. Box 6080
Morgantown, WV 26506
(800) JAN-7234 (accommodation info)
(800) ADA-WORK (ADA info)

For further information on this or other publications, please contact:
Institute for Community Inclusion
UMass Boston
100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125
(617) 287-4300 (voice); (617) 287-4350 (TTY)

This publication will be made available in alternate formats upon request.

The opinions in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Education.

ICI: promoting inclusion for people with disabilities