Recruitment & Retention Opinion

What Should Districts Know About the Americans with Disabilities Act?

By Emily Douglas-McNab — September 21, 2012 3 min read
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Most Americans have heard about the Americans with Disabilities Act and the importance of being ADA compliant. But, what does that mean for employees and organizations, and how does the law impact school districts? Following is information about the ADA that all K-12 talent managers should know.

Brief History
In 1990, Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The purpose? To “provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities.” The ADA covers local and state governments as well as employers with more than 15 employees. The ADA also applies to the federal government under the Rehabilitation Act. Federal lawmakers later approved the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) to help clarify the definition of a disability.

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal body designated to enforce the ADAAA and other employment laws with the purpose of bringing “justice and equal opportunity to the workplace.”

What is a “disability” according to the ADAAA?
The EEOC website offers a wealth of resources designed specifically to help organizations better understand the law. According to the EEOC:

The ADAAA and the final regulations define a disability using a three-pronged approach:
• A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (sometimes referred to in the regulations as an “actual disability”);
• A record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limited a major life activity (“record of”); or
• When a covered entity takes an action prohibited by the ADA because of an actual or perceived impairment that is not both transitory and minor (“regarded as”). [Section 1630.2(g)]

What is a “reasonable accommodation”?
EEOC also cites, “Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the “ADA”) requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, unless to do so would cause undue hardship. In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” There are three categories of “reasonable accommodations":
1. Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires;
2. Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
3. Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.

Where can you get more information?
As the official enforcement body for the ADAAA, I would encourage you to visit the EEOC’s website for a plethora of helpful resources about the law and what employers need to do to comply. Also, Georgetown Law keeps an extensive online achieve complete with speeches, history, testimony, letters, legal language, and more on the ADA of 1990 and the ADAAA.

I always advise school districts that I work with that all employees, from the HR department to principals to the superintendent, should always consult with their district’s legal counsel with any questions about ADA compliance.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.