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What You Need to Know About ... The Americans with Disabilities Act and How it can Impact You

Garrett Bonham, who formerly worked as a knight at the Medieval Times dinner theater in Schaumburg, IL, is suing the company, alleging they fired him for filing worker's compensation claims. The job required that Bonham fight duels and jousts (with real swords and lances) and take choreographed falls from horses.

Now, Bonham says, "Just about every joint in my body hurts," as he was injured multiple times during the course of his 10-year position as a knight. Part of his $75,000-lawsuit contends that the employer violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because they did not offer Bonham a different job--one he could perform despite his injuries.

Disability Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act was the first civil rights law worldwide to protect people with disabilities.

Many Americans are unaware of their rights under this Act, or are unaware of the act altogether. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990 to protect people with all types of disabilities from discrimination. It was the world's first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities.

The Act guarantees equal opportunity for this group of individuals in the areas of public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications.

For those of you who are disabled or know and love someone who is, knowing the essentials of this Act will ensure you get the protection and accommodations to which you're entitled.

Who Is Eligible?

ADA protection applies, primarily, to disabled individuals. A person is "disabled" under the Act if he or she meets one or more of the following requirements:

  • The person has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities.

  • The person has a record of such an impairment.

  • The person is regarded as having such an impairment.

Under certain circumstances, people (parents, for instance) who have an association with a person with a disability, or those who are coerced or subjected to retaliation for helping a person with disabilities assert their rights under the ADA, may also be protected.

Five Titles

The Act is divided into five titles:

  1. Employment (Title I): Businesses must provide "reasonable accommodations" to people with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including the application process, hiring, training, wages, benefits, advancement etc. Possible changes may include altering the layout of workstations, restructuring jobs, etc. Employment-related medical exams are highly regulated under the Act.

  2. Public Services (Title II): Public services including state and local government services, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and public transportation systems cannot deny service to people with disabilities and must be accessible to them.

  3. Public Accommodations (Title III): New construction must be accessible to people with disabilities, and existing structures that have barriers to this group must have them removed if "readily achievable." Public accommodations include restaurants, hotels, grocery and retail stores, privately owned transportation systems, etc.

  4. Disability Act

    Minor, non-chronic conditions of short duration, such as a sprain, infection or broken limb, are generally not covered by the ADA.

  5. Telecommunications (Title IV): Companies offering telephone service to the general public must have telephone relay service for those who use telecommunications devices for the deaf (TTYs) or other similar devices.

  6. Miscellaneous (Title V): Coercing, threatening or retaliating against the disabled or those who attempt to help them assert their rights under the ADA is prohibited.

10 Important ADA Facts to Know

Knowing the facts will ensure you're well equipped to protect your rights or the rights of someone close to you.

  • Employers are only required to accommodate a "known" disability of a qualified applicant or employee. If the employer is unaware of the disability, and the individual does not request accommodation, the employer is not obligated to provide one.

  • Most accommodations under the ADA are triggered by a request from the person with the disability. If the person is unable to suggest an appropriate accommodation, the employer should work with the person to identify one.

  • Employers are required to make accommodations only if they do not impose "undue hardship." Undue hardship is defined as "action requiring significant difficulty or expense," which could include factors such as the cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, etc. of the employer's business. In the event of an "undue hardship," the employer must try to identify another accommodation option and give the employee the option of paying for a portion of the accommodation resulting in undue hardship.

  • An employer may not ask or require a job applicant to take a medical examination before making a job offer.

  • An employer may not make any pre-employment inquiry about a disability or the nature or severity of a disability. They may, however, ask an individual about their ability to perform specific job functions

  • An eligible small business may take a tax credit of up to $5,000 per year for accommodations made to comply with the ADA.

  • A full tax deduction, up to $15,000 per year, is available to any business for expenses of removing qualified architectural or transportation barriers to comply with the ADA.

  • In the case of leased places of public accommodation, such as doctor's offices or day cares, both the landlord and the tenant are legally responsible for making necessary changes to comply with the ADA.

  • Individuals who use illegal drugs are not covered by the ADA.

  • Alcoholics are covered by the ADA, if he or she is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. However, an employer can discipline, discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct.

How to Get Help Under the ADA

If you'd like more information about the Americans with Disabilities Act--such as general ADA information, answers to specific technical questions, free ADA materials or information about filing a complaint--the U.S. Department of Justice has a toll-free ADA Information Line at:

  • 800-514-0301 (voice)

  • 800-514-0383 (TTY)

Recommended Reading

Working Long Hours Now Proven to Kill You: How to Work Smarter, Not Longer

The Gender Income Gap: Are Women Really Making Less than Men for the Same Job?


Americans with Disabilities Act Home Page

Chicago Tribune October 6, 2005

ADA Hot Links and Document Center

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