Though few Fresno media outlets mentioned it, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) recently celebrated a birthday. Thirty years ago, President George H. W. Bush put his signature on the ADA, making the U.S. the first nation to put into law comprehensive protections for the civil rights of people with disabilities.
The transformation of America
The ADA launched a nationwide transformation by requiring businesses, schools and government buildings to have ramps, designated parking, elevators, automatic doors, Braille on signs, curb cuts and more to make public spaces, services and goods accessible to people with disabilities.
But the landmark legislation did much more than enable the elimination of physical barriers, it also knocked down barriers to employment and career advancement by prohibiting employers from discriminating on the basis of disability against workers and job applicants in:
- Pay raises and cuts in pay
- Job training
- Job application processes
What are “reasonable accommodations”?
The ADA also requires employers who have 15 employees or more to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities. Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Modifications to desks, computers, workspaces, etc.
- Restructuring work schedules
- Modifying tests, training or policies
- Making materials available in Braille or large print
- Allowing service animals in a work setting
- Restroom modifications
- Providing unpaid leave to allow for medical treatments
Of course, there are countless other reasonable accommodations possible.
Are you protected by the ADA?
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), you’re protected by the ADA “if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. The ADA also protects you if you have a history of such a disability, or if an employer believes that you have such a disability, even if you don’t.”
The ADA isn’t a legal relic consigned to history classes, however. It’s living law used every day by workers and job applicants with disabilities to protect their workplace rights.
No retaliation allowed
The ADA also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who request reasonable accommodations under the law or who file a complaint of disability discrimination within the company or in a lawsuit.
Retaliation can include acts such as termination, denial of a deserved promotion or raise, unjustified negative reviews or references, and so on.
Though the ADA has undoubtedly improved the lives of employees with disabilities, much work remains. When workers who have suffered disability discrimination fight back, they’re defending civil rights today and safeguarding those rights for tomorrow.