Vail Law: Americans with Disabilities Act has been a life-saver for many people (column) |

Vail Law: Americans with Disabilities Act has been a life-saver for many people (column)

Rohn K. Robbins
Vail Law

Maybe we don’t see it as much here in Happy Valley as they do in other places, but the Americans with Disabilities Act has been a virtual life-saver for many.

The ADA became law in 1990. It is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in all areas of public life against persons with disabilities. This extends to discrimination in employment, education, transportation and of all places — public and private — that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA gives civil rights protections to disabled persons similar to those provided to others on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for those with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to different areas of public life.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was updated with the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act. This update made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” which apply to all titles of the ADA.

“The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”

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Titles and updates

Title I relates to employment and provides for equal employment opportunity for persons with disabilities. It is designed to level the playing field and assist people with disabilities with access to the same employment opportunities and benefits available to those without disabilities. Under this title, employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified applicants or employees. A “reasonable accommodation” is any modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will enable an applicant or employee with a disability to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.  

Employers with 15 or more employees must comply with the law. The regulations for Title I define disability, establish guidelines for the reasonable accommodation process, address medical examinations and inquiries and define “direct threat” when there is significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of an individual employee.

Title II deals with state and local governments and provides for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services. Title II prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities and services of public entities. This reach extends to public transportation and establishes detailed standards for the operation of public transit systems. Title II also addresses identification of architectural barriers in order to avoid unnecessary hinderance or discrimination and addresses the need for effective communication with people with hearing, vision and speech disabilities.

Title III speaks to public accommodations and provides for nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities. Title III prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Examples of public accommodations include privately-owned, leased or operated facilities such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, doctors’ offices, golf courses, private schools, day care centers, health clubs, sports stadiums, movie theaters and so on. This title sets the minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities. It also requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where so doing may be accomplished without substantial difficulty or expense.  

‘Reasonable modifications’

The Title directs businesses to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. It also requires that businesses take steps necessary to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing and speech disabilities. 

Title IV deals with telecommunications. It requires telephone and internet companies to provide a nationwide system of interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services that allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. This title also requires closed captioning of federally-funded public service announcements. 

Title V is a catchall section containing a variety of provisions relating to the ADA as a whole, including its relationship to other laws, state immunity, its impact on insurance providers and benefits, prohibition against retaliation and coercion, illegal use of drugs and attorney’s fees.  This title also provides a list of certain conditions that are not to be considered as disabilities.

As a piece of civil rights legislation, much of the ADA is subject to oversight by the United States Department of Justice. Enforcement of the employment provisions lie with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Telecommunications provisions are overseen by the Federal Communication Commission.

Business persons are wise to be familiar with those portions of the ADA that will necessarily affect them and to comply with those requirements the Act imposes.

Disability rights are civil rights, and the enlightened ADA has gone far to level the playing field to assure that the disabled are accorded the same access, rights and opportunities as everyone else. All of us pulling together to even out our various limitations is a bright feather in the cap of our democracy.

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddison, Tharp & Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody and divorce and civil litigation. Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his email address,

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