Myths and Facts about
The American with Disabilities Act
MYTH: ADA suits are flooding the courts.
FACT: The ADA has resulted in a surprisingly small number of
lawsuits -- only about 650 nationwide in five years. That's tiny
compared to the 6 million businesses; 666,000 public and private
employers; and 80,000 units of state and local government that
MYTH: The ADA is rigid and requires businesses to spend lots of
money to make their existing facilities accessible.
FACT: The ADA is based on common sense. It recognizes that
altering existing structures is more costly than making new
construction accessible. The law _only_ requires that public
accommodations (e.g. stores, banks, hotels, and restaurants)
remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is
"readily achievable", i.e., it can be done "without much
difficulty or expense." Inexpensive, easy steps to take include
ramping one step; installing a bathroom grab bar; lowering a
paper towel dispenser; rearranging furniture; installing offset
hinges to widen a doorway; or painting new lines to create an
accessible parking space.
MYTH: The government thinks everything is readily achievable.
FACT: Not true. Often it may not be readily achievable to remove
a barrier -- especially in older structures. Let's say a small
business is located above ground. Installing an elevator would
not, most likely, be readily achievable -- and there may not be
enough room to build a ramp -- or the business may not be
profitable enough to build a ramp. In these circumstances, the
ADA would allow a business to simply provide curbside service to
persons with disabilities.
MYTH: The ADA requires businesses to remove barriers overnight.
FACT: Businesses are only required to do what is readily
achievable at that time. A small business may find that
installing a ramp is not readily achievable this year, but if
profits improve it will be readily achievable next year.
Businesses are encouraged to evaluate their facilities and
develop a long-term plan for barrier removal that is commensurate
with their resources.
MYTH: Restaurants must provide menus in braille.
FACT: Not true. Waiters can read the menu to blind customers.
MYTH: The ADA requires extensive renovation of all state and
local government buildings to make them accessible.
FACT: The ADA requires all government _programs_, not all
government _buildings_, to be accessible. "Program
accessibility" is a very flexible requirement and does not
require a local government to do anything that would result in an
undue financial or administrative burden. Local governments have
been subject to this requirement for many years under the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Not every building, nor each part of
every building needs to be accessible. Structural modifications
are required only when there is no alternative available for
providing program access. Let's say a town library has an
inaccessible second floor. No elevator is needed if it provides
"program accessibility" for persons using wheelchairs by having
staff retrieve books.
MYTH: Sign language interpreters are required everywhere.
FACT: The ADA only requires that effective communication not
exclude people with disabilities -- which in many situations
means providing written materials or exchanging notes. The law
does not require any measure that would cause an undue financial
or administrative burden.
MYTH: The ADA forces business and government to spend lots of
money hiring unqualified people.
FACT: No unqualified job applicant or employee with a disability
can claim employment discrimination under the ADA. Employees
must meet all the requirements of the job and perform the
essential functions of the job with or without reasonable
accommodation. No accommodation must be provided if it would
result in an undue hardship on the employer.
MYTH: Accommodating workers with disabilities costs too much.
FACT: Reasonable accommodation is usually far less expensive than
many people think. In most cases, an appropriate reasonable
accommodation can be made without difficulty and at little or no
cost. A recent study commissioned by Sears indicates that of the
436 reasonable accommodations provided by the company between
1978 and 1992, 69% cost nothing, 28% cost less than $1,000, and
only 3% cost more than $1,000.
MYTH: The government is no help when it comes to paying for
FACT: Not so. Federal tax incentives are available to help meet
the cost of ADA compliance.
MYTH: Businesses must pay large fines when they violate the ADA.
FACT: Courts may levy civil penalties only in cases brought by
the Justice Department, not private litigants. The Department
only seeks such penalties when the violation is substantial and
the business has shown bad faith in failing to comply. Bad faith
can take many forms, including hostile acts against people with
disabilities, a long-term failure even to inquire into what the
ADA requires, or sustained resistance to voluntary compliance.
The Department also considers a business' size and resources in
determining whether civil penalties are appropriate. Civil
penalties may not be assessed in cases against state or local
governments or employers.
MYTH: The Justice Department sues first and asks questions later.
FACT: The primary goal of the Department's enforcement program is
to increase voluntary compliance through technical assistance and
negotiation. Under existing rules, the Department may not file a
lawsuit unless it has first tried to settle the dispute through
negotiations -- which is why most every complaint settles.
MYTH: The Justice Department never files suits.
FACT: The Department has been party to 20 suits under the ADA.
Although it tries extensively to promote voluntary compliance,
the Department will take legal action when entities continue to
resist complying with the law.
MYTH: Many ADA cases involve frivolous issues.
FACT: The Justice Department's enforcement of the ADA has been
fair and rooted in common sense. The overwhelming majority of
the complaints received by the Justice Department have merit.
Our focus is on fundamental issues related to access to goods and
services that are basic to people's lives. We have avoided
pursuing fringe and frivolous issues and will continue to do so.
MYTH: Everyone claims to be covered under the ADA.
FACT: The definition of "individual with a disability" is fraught
with conditions and must be applied on a case-by-case basis.
MYTH: The ADA protects people who are overweight.
FACT: Just being overweight is not enough. Modifications in
policies only must be made if they are _reasonable_ and do not
fundamentally alter the nature of the program or service
provided. The Department has received only a handful of
complaints about obesity.
MYTH: The ADA is being misused by people with "bad backs" and
FACT: Trivial complaints do not make it through the system. And
many claims filed by individuals with such conditions are not
trivial. There are people with severe depression or people with
a history of alcoholism who are judged by their employers, not on
the basis of their abilities, but rather upon stereotypes and
fears that employers associate with their conditions.
This information has been provided by the
United States Department of Justice.
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