Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Broader than any disability law that came before it, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act made it illegal for the federal government, federal contractors, and any entity receiving federal financial assistance to discriminate on the basis of disability. Section 504 obligates state and local governments to ensure that persons with disabilities have equal access to any programs, services, or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Covered entities also are required to ensure that their employment practices do not discriminate on the basis of disability.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is built upon the foundation laid by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It uses as its model Section 504's definition of disability and then goes further. While Section 504 applies only to entities receiving federal financial assistance, the ADA covers all state and local governments, including those that receive no federal financial assistance. The ADA also applies to private businesses that meet the ADA's definition of "public accommodation" (restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, and doctors' offices are just a few examples), commercial facilities (such as office buildings, factories, and warehouses), and many private employers.

While the ADA has five separate titles, Title II is the section specifically applicable to "public entities" (state and local governments) and the programs, services, and activities they deliver. The Department of Justice (DOJ), through its Civil Rights Division, is the key agency responsible for enforcing Title II and for coordinating other federal agencies' enforcement activities under Title II.