Americans with Disabilities Act
This page provides an overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for Washington local government agencies, including examples of local policies and procedures.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the landmark federal legislation that opened up services and employment opportunities to the more than 60 million Americans with disabilities. It was passed July 26, 1990, as Public Law 101-336 (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.) and became effective on January 26, 1992. The law was written to strike a balance between the reasonable accommodation of citizens' needs and the capacity of private and public entities to respond. It is not an affirmative action law but is intended to eliminate illegal discrimination and level the playing field for people with disabilities.
The law is comprised of five titles that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Titles I and II are the primary sections that affect local governments.
- Title I prohibits employers, including counties, cities and other local governments, from discriminating against qualified job applicants and workers who have disabilities or become disabled. The law covers all aspects of employment including the application process and hiring, training, compensation, advancement, and any other employment term, condition, or privilege.
- Title II prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against people with disabilities in their programs and activities. Title II also sets forth the applicable structural accessibility requirements for public entities.
- Title III prohibits private enterprises who provide public accommodations and services (e.g., hotels, restaurants, and transit systems) from denying goods, services and programs to people based on their disabilities. Title III also sets forth the applicable structural accessibility requirements for private entities.
- Title IV makes available telecommunications devices and services for the hearing and speech impaired. These regulations spell out certain mandatory minimum standards telephone companies must maintain to be in compliance with the ADA.
- Title V includes some miscellaneous provisions that relate to the construction and application of the ADA, including alternative dispute resolution.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Civil Rights Division, maintains the website ADA.gov that includes the law and regulations, design standards, technical assistance materials, and portals to file complaints. Below are some DOJ resources specific to local governments:
- ADA Update – A Primer for State and Local Governments (2020) – Addresses nondiscrimination requirements, such as program accessibility, service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices, policies and procedures, and 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to the built environment, including existing buildings, new construction and alterations.
- The ADA and City Governments: Common Problems (2020) – This document contains a sampling of common problems shared by city governments of all sizes that have been identified through the Department of Justice's ongoing enforcement efforts. The document provides examples of common deficiencies and explains how these problems affect persons with disabilities.
- Cities and Counties: First Steps Toward Solving Common ADA Problems (2004) – A short article, with very useful photographs, discussing and graphically outlining common problems faced by persons with disabilities when dealing with local governments and their facilities
- ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments (2007) – The Tool Kit is designed to teach state and local government officials how to identify and fix problems that prevent people with disabilities from gaining equal access to state and local government programs, services, and activities. It also offers assistance to state and local officials as to how to conduct accessibility surveys of their buildings and facilities to identify and remove architectural barriers to access.
- 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. – Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), including changes made by the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (PL. 110-325 (S. 3406))
- RCW 49.60.040 – Legislation that redefines the term "disability" under Washington law
- 28 C.F.R. Part 35 – ADA regulations related to state and local government services
- 28 C.F.R. Part 36 – ADA regulations regarding public accommodations and public facilities
- 28 C.F.R. Part 35.151 – ADA standards for accessible design
- 29 C.F.R. Part 1630 – Regulations implementing the ADA equal employment provisions
Title I prohibits employers, including counties, cities, towns and other local governments, from discriminating against qualified job applicants and workers who are or who become disabled. The law covers all aspects of employment including the application process and hiring, training, compensation, advancement, and any other employment term, condition, or privilege.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Resources
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces Title I of the ADA. Below are resources from the EEOC:
- Disability Discrimination and Employment Decisions – Overview of the Disability Laws that the EEOC enforces
- Enforcement Guidance: Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship under the ADA (2002) – How to provide reasonable accommodation to current and potential employees.
- Job Applicants and the Americans with Disabilities Act (2003) – Information for job applicants set out in question and answer format.
- Mental Health Conditions: Resources for Job Seekers, Employees, and Employers (2022)
- Hearing Disabilities in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (2023) – A Q&A document addressing job applicants and employees with hearing impairments
- Work at home/Telework as a reasonable accommodation (2003) – A question and answer format discussing the possibility of an employer accommodating a disability by allowing a person with disabilities to work at home.
- Obtaining and Using Employee Medical Information as Part of Emergency Evacuation Procedures (2001) – A fact sheet, set out in question and answer format, to use in the development of procedures for the evacuation of employees from the workplace in times of emergency, including those who may have disabilities.
- Small Employers and Reasonable Accommodation (1999) – A fact sheet setting out information on accommodations in employment.
- The ADA: Your Responsibilities as an Employer (1991) – A brief discussion of personnel issues, such as reasonable accommodations and medical examinations
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Resources
Below are some additional resources regarding the ADA and hiring:
- Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, and Disability Discrimination in Hiring (2022)
- Questions and Answers: The ADA and Hiring Police Officers (2020) – FAQs regarding ADA requirements for interviewing and hiring police officers.
Title II prohibits state and local governments from discriminating against people with disabilities in their programs and activities. Title II also sets forth the applicable structural accessibility requirements for public entities.
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Resources
The U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, enforces title II of the ADA. Below are some of their resources:
- ADA Update: A Primer for State and Local Governments (2020) – Addresses nondiscrimination requirements, such as program accessibility, service animals, communicating with people with disabilities, power-driven mobility devices, policies and procedures, and 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design to the built environment, including existing buildings, new construction and alterations.
- ADA Guide for Small Towns (2007) – Information relating to required compliance with the ADA by towns, small cities, school districts, water districts, special purpose districts, and other small local governments.
- ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual (1993) – Technical assistance manual updated in a 1994 supplement. An important source document comprehensively addressing Title II issues.
- ADA Requirements: Effective communication (2020) – Covered municipalities must provide aids and services when needed to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal of the regulations is to ensure that communication with people with disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities.
- ADA Requirements: Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids, and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices (2020) – Final rules relating to the accommodation of wheelchairs and other mobility devices. Covered governments must allow people with disabilities who use wheelchairs (including manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and electric scooters) and manually-powered mobility aids such as walkers, crutches, canes, braces, and other similar devices into all areas of a facility where members of the public are allowed to go.
- ADA Requirements: Service Animals (2020) – Provides guidance on the term “service animal” and the service animal provisions in the Department’s 2010 regulations
- Emergency Planning (2023) – Discusses how state/local governments can ensure their emergency planning programs are accessible for persons with disabilities. See also their guidance document: ADA Guide for Local Governments: Making Community Emergency Preparedness and Response Programs Accessible to People with Disabilities (2006).
- Guidance on Web Accessibility and the ADA (2022) – Discussion and examples of how to design webpages in order to make them more accessible to persons with disabilities.
- Commonly Asked Questions about the ADA and Law Enforcement (2020) – Provides information for law enforcement agencies in a simple question and answer format.
- Americans with Disabilities Act Information for Law Enforcement (2008) – Links to information providing assistance on ADA issues to those who serve in law enforcement
U.S. Access Board Resources
The U.S. Access Board is a federal agency that develops and maintains design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, information and communication technology, and medical diagnostic equipment under the ADA and other laws. Below are some of their resources:
- Guide to the ADA Standards – Provides information on accessible routes, including doors and gates, ramps and curb ramps, elevators and platform lifts. The guide also includes animations on wheelchair maneuvering, entrances and doors, toilet and bathing facilities, and information on dealing with protruding objects. Other topics covered are design requirements for places of public accommodation and for state and local government facilities covered by the ADA.
- A Summary of Accessibility Guidelines for Play Areas (2007) – Guidelines providing a comprehensive set of criteria for access to play areas, covering the number of play components required to be accessible, accessible surfacing in play areas, ramp access and transfer system access to elevated structures, and access to soft contained play structures. The guidelines address play areas provided at schools, parks, child care facilities (except those based in the operator's home, which are exempt), and other facilities subject to the ADA. This continues to be the primary source document on this subject.
The below resources provide additional helpful ADA information:
- Federal Transit Administration: Americans with Disabilities Act (2011) – Final rule, links and information concerning the ADA and transit operations
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C): Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2) Overview – Introduction to WCAG international standard, including WCAG 2.0, WCAG, 2.1, an WCAG 2.2. WCAG documents explain how to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities.
Sidewalk Accessibility under the ADA
In Barden v. City of Sacramento (2002), the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, ruled that sidewalks installed and maintained by local governments must be accessible to persons with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The court held that the operation of sidewalks is a municipal "service, program, or activity" under Title II of the ADA and that maintaining a public sidewalk is a "normal function of a governmental entity." Per the decision, the City of Sacramento had a duty to provide curb ramps at intersections on newly-constructed or remodeled roadways and walkways, and was directed to develop a program which would assure the accessibility of all its sidewalks between curb ramps. The U.S. Supreme Court declined review.
Consistent with this decision, local governments in Washington must ensure accessibility of their sidewalks to, for example, persons using wheelchairs or those with sight impairments.
Below are some resources regarding sidewalk accessibility.
- Federal Highway Commission: Sidewalk Design Guidelines and Existing Practices – Addresses accessibility issues
- U.S. Department of Justice: Curb Ramps and Pedestrian Crossings Under Title II of the ADA (2007) – Chapter 6 of the ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments,
- Washington State Department of Transportation: Pedestrian Facilities (2022) – This chapter of the Washington State Department of Transportation Design Manual provides standards for pedestrian facilities in accordance with ADA requirements.
Title III prohibits private enterprises who provide public accommodations and services (e.g., hotels, restaurants, and transit systems) from denying goods, services and programs to people based on their disabilities. Title III also sets forth the applicable structural accessibility requirements for private entities.
Below are resources from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division:
- ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual (1993) – Title III applies to public accommodations and commercial facilities.
- ADA Title III Technical Assistance Manual 1994 Supplement – This manual updates the above-mentioned Title III manual. It is a primary source document.
Some jurisdictions have adopted policies affirming their commitment to aims of the ADA and establishing procedures and forms to implement the law's requirements. The following are examples of local policies and notices.
- Clarkston ADA Policy and Notice (2010) – Establishes policy and notice regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. Includes Resolution adopting policy.
- Port Angeles ADA Policy and Notice (2008)
- Shoreline Grievance Procedure (2018) – Procedure for filing a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in provision of services, activities, programs, facilities or benefits from the City. Includes Resolution.
- Wenatchee Policy for Compliance Regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (2013)
- Yakima Americans with Disabilities Act Grievance Procedure (2007)
- Yakima Transit ADA Policy (2015)
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Civil Rights Division
- Guide to Disability Rights Laws (2020) – Provides a brief overview of ten federal laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities and provides information about the federal agencies to contact for more information.
- Laws, Regulations, and Standards
- 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design
- Regulations Implementing Equal Employment provisions of the ADA
- Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Regulations
- Q&A on the Final Rule Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
- Fact Sheet on the EEOC's Final Regulations Implementing the ADAAA
Washington State Human Rights Commission
- Guide to Disability & Washington State Non-Discrimination Laws (2012) – Discusses definitions and answers common questions regarding Washington's definition of "disability," which is broader, covers more medical conditions, and is not restricted to a condition that substantially limits a major life activity.
- U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division: Americans With Disabilities Act – Primary federal resource on the ADA, including information and technical assistance.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Americans with Disabilities Act – Offers technical assistance including related to employers’ obligations to provide reasonable accommodations.
- U.S. Access Board – A federal agency that develops and maintains design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, information and communication technology, and medical diagnostic equipment under the ADA and other laws. Links to agencies involved with the ADA.
- ADA National Network: ADA Web Search Portal – Resource/link to over 7,400 ADA documents
- Northwest ADA Center: State/Local Government Toolkit – Resources and training opportunities intended for ADA coordinators for local governments
- Job Accommodation Network – The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy of the U.S. Department of Labor. Their ADA Library offers links to a variety of documents.
- National Disability Institute: Financial Resilience Center – This nonprofit organization provides resources to improve the economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities.