What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

ByAndrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a glance

  • ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act.

  • The ADA is a federal civil rights law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in most settings.

  • The ADA is very broad in who it covers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law. It protects people with disabilities from discrimination in almost all settings. 

The law applies to the government, schools, and many employers. It also applies to anyone who offers goods and services to the public. This includes restaurants, stores, and even websites. But there are areas the ADA doesn’t reach, like someone’s home or other private settings. Private clubs and religious organizations are also exempt.

ADA Fact SheetPDF

The ADA is very broad in who it covers. The law protects anyone with a physical or mental condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Major life activities include things like seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, or walking. But there are other activities that fall into this category, including: 

  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking
  • Communicating 
  • Working
  • Caring for yourself
  • Interacting with others

A condition doesn’t have to be severe to qualify for protection under the ADA. But it must have a significant impact on a person’s ability to do these activities, compared to most people in society. This is decided case-by-case.

If you think a school, employer, or business isn’t following the ADA, you can file a complaint with a federal agency. There’s an ADA hotline to help you find out who to contact. The toll-free number is 800-514-0301 (voice) and 800-514-0383 (TTY).

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    About the author

    About the author

    Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.