What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law built on the principles of equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.  The intent of the law is to counter myths and stereotypes about people with disabilities and to eliminate segregation and isolation.  The ADA covers employment; the programs, services and activities provided by state and local governments (think UNH); places of public accommodation (think of all the privately owned places you go to relax, shop, attend events and conduct business) and transportation.  The law was enacted in 1990 and then amended in 2008 (ADAAA) to clarify and broaden the interpretation of the definition of disability.

What is the definition of disability under the ADA?

The ADA defines disability, as it applies to an individual, as:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual,
  2. a record of such an impairment, or
  3. being regarded as having such an impairment.

To clarify:

  1. The phrase physical or mental impairment means—
    • (A) Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:  neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin, and endocrine.
    • (B) Any mental or psychological disorder such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
    • A physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, such contagious and non-contagious diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, mental retardation, emotional illness, specific learning disabilities, HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic), tuberculosis, drug addiction, and alcoholism.
    •  The phrase physical or mental impairment does not include homosexuality or bisexuality.
    •  The phrase major life activities means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.
  2. The phrase has a record of such an impairment means the individual has a history of, or has been misclassified as having, a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  3. The phrase is regarded as having an impairment means—
    • An individual has a physical or mental impairment that does not substantially limit major life activities but that is treated by a public entity as constituting such a limitation;
    • An individual has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitudes of others toward such impairment; or
    • An individual has none of the impairments defined in paragraph (1) of this definition but is treated by a public entity as having such an impairment.

What federal agencies enforce the ADA?

Several federal agencies are responsible for enforcing the provisions of the ADA.

  • Employment is covered by Title I of the ADA and is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
  • UNH is a public university offering programs, activities and services on behalf of the State of New Hampshire and so we are covered by Title II of the ADA. Anyone who interfaces with the university (student, employee or visitor) is protected from discrimination based on disability.  The US Department of Justice, Disability Rights Division enforces Title II.
  • Public transportation such as Wildcat Transit is also covered by Title II of the ADA and is enforced by the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Transportation.
  • Private entities, known as places of accommodation under the ADA, are covered by Title III and the rules and regulations are enforced by the US Department of Justice.
  • Telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities is covered by Title IV of the ADA and enforced by the Federal Communications Commission.

Are there any other federal laws that protect individuals with disability?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in1998, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment and in the employment practices of Federal contractors.  Although UNH is not a federal entity, the institution does benefit from federal dollars and so our programs and activities must be conducted in compliance with Act.  Similar to the ADA, various Federal agencies enforce the Rehabilitation Act but as an institution of higher education UNH is primarily monitored by the US Department of Education, Civil Rights Division.  Applicable Sections:

  • Section 504 – requires that programs and activities that use Federal funds must be conducted in a manner that is non-discriminatory based on disability.  At UNH this covers a wide variety of programs and activities such as Federally-funded research and Federally-funded student services such as financial aid and the TRIO student support services program.
  • Section 508 – establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA), amended in 1988, prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status and national origin.  Owners of housing facilities, such as UNH Housing, are required to have policies or make reasonable exceptions to policies that afford students with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from campus housing and related activities.

For more information on all disability rights laws: A Guide to Disability Rights Laws

What office at UNH is responsible for compliance with the ADA and other federal disability laws?

The Civil Rights and Equity Office.