July 26, 2023 marked the 33rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was signed into law in 1990 by President George Bush. This groundbreaking civil rights law prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities.

In honor of this anniversary, we’re taking a look at some common myths surrounding this federal law.

Myth #1: The ADA Covers Only Those With Physical or Developmental Disabilities That Impact Life Activities

While the ADA covers people who have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity,” such as walking, hearing, seeing, breathing, talking, reasoning and taking care of oneself, it also covers those who have had a “record of impairment” or currently have a disability that does not limit life activities.

For example, the ADA covers people who have had cancer or mental illness, even if their condition is currently in remission. It also covers people who may have a condition, such as diabetes, that is currently controlled.

Moreover, the ADA protects able-bodied Americans from discrimination they might face based on their relationship or association with someone who has a disability. For instance, a child of someone who is HIV-positive cannot be denied admission into daycare because their parent is HIV-positive. The ADA covers that child even though they do not have a disability.

Myth #2: The Federal Government Requires All Businesses and Government Buildings to Be Fully ADA-Compliant

It is true that the ADA requires businesses to be accessible and usable by people with disabilities, but the level of accessibility depends on the age of the building. New facilities and new construction on existing facilities are held to a more stringent level of ADA compliance. Older buildings must still take reasonable steps to improve access.

For government buildings, ADA compliance applies to the program and not the structure. The idea of program accessibility is very flexible and prevents local government from undue financial or administrative burdens. Modifying a government building is required, however, when there is no alternative for gaining access to the program.

There are federal tax incentives that can help offset the cost of ADA compliance.

Myth #3: An Employee With an “Invisible” Disability Is Required to Tell Their Employer About Their Disability

While the ADA encourages employees with non-apparent disabilities to seek accommodations that can improve their well-being and productivity, it is not a requirement. Employees with a disability that does not impact their ability to perform their job are not required to tell their employer about their disability.

Myth #4: The ADA Protects Any Type of Service Animal But Requires Them to Wear Identifying Vests

The ADA specifically protects service dogs. In some situations, it also protects horses.

There is no special license or training certification required for service dogs. Staff may ask a patron with a service dog whether the dog is required due to a disability and what work or task the dog performs. Those are the only two questions the staff member may ask the patron.

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