Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Frequently Asked Questions


The ADA is a federal civil rights law designed to prevent discrimination and enable individuals with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of society.


The ADA applies to a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (like sitting, standing, sleeping, walking, interacting with others, learning, working etc.)  It also protects a person with a record of or who is regarded as if s/he has a substantially limiting impairment.

The ADA only protects a person who is qualified for the job s/he has or wants.

  • The individual with a disability must meet job-related requirements (for example, education, training, or skills requirements.)
  • S/he must be able to perform the job's essential functions (i.e. its fundamental duties) with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Employers covered by the ADA have to make sure that people with disabilities:

  • Have an equal opportunity to apply for jobs and to work in jobs for which they are qualified;
  • Have an equal opportunity to be promoted once they are working;
  • Have equal access to benefits and privileges of employment that are offered to other employees, such as employer-provided health insurance or training; and
  • Are not harassed because of their disability.

Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or modifications provided by an employer to enable people with disabilities to enjoy equal employment opportunities.

Accommodations vary depending upon the needs of the individual applicant or employee.  Not all people with disabilities (or even all people with the same disability) will require the same accommodation.


A reasonable accommodation must be provided if a person with a disability needs one in order to apply for a job, perform a job, or enjoy benefits equal to those offered to other employees.  An employer does not have to provide any accommodation that would pose an undue hardship.

  • Undue hardship means that providing the accommodation would adversely affect other employees, create other substantial problems, or be too expensive considering the financial resources of the employer.

In addition to actions that would result in undue hardship, and employer does not have to do any of the following:

  • Provide an employee with an adjustment or modification that would assist the individual both on and off the job, such as a prosthetic limb, wheelchair, or eyeglasses;
  • Remove or alter a job's essential functions.

An employer generally does not have to provide a reasonable accommodation unless an individual with a disability has asked for one.

  • A request can be a statement "in plain English" that an individual needs an adjustment or change in the application process or at work for a reason related to a medical condition.  The request does not have to include the terms "ADA" or "reasonable accommodation," and the request does not have to be in writing, although the employer may ask for something in writing to document the request.

A family member, friend, health professional, rehabilitation counselor, or other representative also may request a reasonable accommodation on behalf of an individual with a disability.


Once a reasonable accommodation is requested, and it is determined that the employee has a disability or is otherwise within the coverage of the ADA, the employer and the individual should discuss his/her needs and identify the appropriate reasonable accommodation.  Where more than one accommodation would work, the employer may choose the one that is less costly or that is easer to provide.

"Interactive process" is a formal way of saying that the employer and the employee or applicant should talk about the request for a reasonable accommodation, especially where the need for the accommodation might not be obvious.  A conversation also helps where there may be a question regarding what type of accommodation might best help the individual apply for a job or perform the essential functions of a job.


If the need for an accommodation is not obvious, the employer may ask for documentation describing the individual's disability and why the requested accommodation is needed.  The employer may:

  • Specify what types of information are being sought about the disability and needed accommodation;
  • Explain what the employer will need to know;
  • Request information about how an accommodation would enable the employee to perform job-related tasks.

The employer must keep confidential any medical information learned about an applicant or employee.  The ADA contains certain exceptions to the general rule requiring confidentiality.  Information that is otherwise confidential under the ADA may be disclosed:

  • To supervisors and managers where they need medical information in order to provide a reasonable accommodation or to meet an employee's work restrictions;
  • To first aid and safety personnel if an employee would need emergency treatment or require some other assistance (such as help during an emergency evacuation) because of a medical condition;
  • To individuals investigating compliance with the ADA and with similar state and local laws; and
  • Pursuant to workers' compensation laws or for insurance purposes.



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