Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 “to establish a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.” The ADA drew on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which did not cover people with disabilities) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which prohibited discrimination against any otherwise qualified person with handicaps in any program receiving federal funding). During the 1970s, many states enacted nondiscrimination laws for the handicapped; by 1990, every state had a law requiring public building accessibility. State and municipal offices and commissions on disability were created. The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 and the Fair Housing Amendments of 1988 that added persons with disabilities as a protected class also were precursors of the ADA.

The ADA extended the reach of these earlier laws to encompass the private sector and state and local governments not receiving federal funding. It prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment (Title I), public services and public transportation (Title II), public accommodations and services operated by private entities (Title III), and telecommunications (Title IV). States and localities are required to prohibit discrimination in all services, programs, or activities, including employment. Under Title V, religious communities and private clubs are exempted from the act. In addition, consistent with the principles of federalism, the ADA does not preempt state and local laws that provide equal or greater protections; however, the Eleventh Amendment does not protect states from federal law suits for violations of the ADA.

The ADA is administered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Department of Justice, Department of Transportation, and Federal Communications Commission. The National Institute of Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the Department of Education provides technical assistance. States and localities are not required to enforce Title III provisions, but must ensure that their codes meet minimum ADA standards. The act has been amended several times since its enactment in 1990 and is undergoing continuous challenges and interpretation in the courts.


Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., The Americans with Disabilities Act (Washington, DC: Author, 1990); Kathryn S. McCarty, Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (Washington, DC: National League of Cities, 1991); and U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, The Americans with Disabilities Act: Title II Technical Assistance Manual (Washington, DC: Author, 1993).

Phoebe Liebig

Last updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Age Discrimination; Civil Rights Act of 1964