The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that ensures that individuals who have disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as those individuals who do not have disabilities. The ADA was passed in 1990.
The ADA prohibits discrimination against an individual who has a disability. It is similar to the prohibition of discrimination based upon gender, race, or national origin in the United States.
The prohibition against discrimination extends to:
- Local, state, and federal government services;
- Public accommodations;
- Commercial facilities; and
The ADA provides that an employer is required to provide reasonable accomodations to make the individual’s employment as well as the workplace accessible to disabled employees. A business is also required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure access to customers who have disabilities.
Penalties will apply if a business fails to comply with the requirements of this law.
What are ADA Accommodations?
ADA accommodations are modifications or adjustments of some type that are made to a work or retail environment or the way a job is done. These are made in order to make employment or patronage of a business accessible to individuals with disabilities.
An accommodation may also include modifications or adjustments to the hiring process that is used to ensure that individuals with disabilities are able to apply for a job along with individuals who are not disabled. The ADA requires employers and businesses to make reasonable accommodations.
What is a Reasonable Accommodation Under the ADA?
An employer is required to make reasonable changes in the workplace or to an employment position in order to enable an employee to do their job if they have a disability. Reasonable accommodations may be made to the work:
- Schedule; or
These changes should be designed to allow a disabled employee to perform the most important job functions and major life activities in their workplace. In a public business, an accommodation is made to ensure that individuals with disabilities can access the business.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Physical accessibility: Existing facilities can be modified to make them more accessible to disabled employees or customers, for example, installing a wheelchair ramp or modifying bathroom stalls and other spaces so that they are accessible to employees or customers who are using wheelchairs and walkers;
- Job restructuring: This may be as simple as providing a seat to retail cashiers to use while they work;
- Modifying work schedules: This might entail modifying schedules so that disabled employees are allowed enough breaks for rest, commute times are accommodated, and the like;
- Internal reassignment to a position that is more accommodating: For example, an employer might move a disabled worker in the warehouse to a desk job;
- Accommodating visual and hearing impairment: An employer could provide accessible software and assistive technologies, for example, videophones for the deaf and hearing impaired. Or, the employer may provide:
- sign language interpreters;
- closed captioning;
- large print materials; and
- Braille printed materials;
- Telework and remote work: A chronically ill employee could be permitted to work in a full-time remote work or telework position so they could more easily go to their doctor’s appointments; or
- Allowances as required: A business can simply adjust policies to allow for the presence of service animals, time off to access medical care, and similar steps.
The key to these accommodations is that they must be reasonable. The nature of the work as well as the business environment must be taken into consideration.
An accommodation which would impose an undue hardship on the employer is not required. Making an accommodation that is very expensive or very difficult to implement would be considered an undue hardship and would not be reasonable.
When considering an accommodation request, a court would use a balancing test and would weigh the nature of the accommodation against the financial burden that would be placed on the employer. The benefits of retaining the employee are also considered.
It is the responsibility of the employer to exhaust every possible reasonable solution prior to deciding that a request creates an undue hardship.
What is Considered a Disability Under the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that a disability may be:
- “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities or bodily functions”;
- “A record of impairment, even if it is not classified as a medical disability”; or
- A condition that leads to an individual being “regarded as having a disability.”
Examples of particular conditions that have been found to be disabilities include:
- Physical conditions: These include:
- Mental and emotional conditions: These include:
- Cerebral palsy;
- HIV infection;
- Multiple sclerosis;
- Mobility impairments;
- Major depressive disorder;
- Bipolar disorder;
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder; and
What are Some Consequences for ADA Violations?
The consequences of violating the ADA may include a citation, a fine, or an injunction. The civil penalty may be as high as $75,000 for the first violation and up to $150,000 for subsequent violations.
An injunction is a court order to cease engaging in an activity or a requirement to take a specific action. As related to the ADA, an injunction would require an employer to correct any inadequate conditions as well as to make a requested accommodation.
In addition, if a patron of a business was injured due to an ADA infraction, the business owner may face a private civil lawsuit filed by that injured patron which may result in personal injury liability and damages.
Are Cruise Ships Required to Provide Disabled Access?
The United States Supreme Court ruled in June of 2005 that, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a cruise ship must be fully accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Although the ADA does not explicitly cover a cruise ship, the Supreme Court held that Congress would have intended for cruise ships to be included.
What if The Cruise Ship is Foreign?
In addition to the reasonable accommodations that American vessels are now required to make, the Court held specifically that foreign cruise ships in United States waters are also subject to ADA regulations. Prior to this, the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Transportation determined that foreign cruise vessels in U.S. waters were subject to ADA requirements.
Therefore, if a foreign cruise ship sails into United States waters, it may be sued for violating the ADA. However, if a foreign cruise ship is also required to abide by an international legal obligation that conflicts with ADA standards or if it is required to make changes that would threaten the safety of the ship, it may defy ADA requirements.
Where are U.S. Waters?
United States waters include territorial waters within 12 nautical miles of the coasts of the U.S. and its territories. In addition, it is generally understood that ships in United States waters are required to respect U.S. laws and regulations.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
If you are a disabled individual, you are entitled to specific protections as outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act. if you believe you have been discriminated against while on a cruise ship because of a disability, you should consult with a discrimination lawyers.
Your lawyer can advise you of your rights under the ADA as well as any remedies which may be available to you. If you have to go to court to resolve your issue, your attorney will represent you during any appearances.