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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Know your rights

Alicia Colombo

By Mary Anna Rodabaugh

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law and established sweeping protections against discrimination for individuals living with disabilities. The ADA guarantees equal opportunities for individuals living with disabilities regarding employment, transportation, government services and telecommunications.

The ADA National Network, which provides a wealth of information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act, shares the following information about this vital legislation for older adults and people living with disabilities.

The ADA defines a person living with a disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” This definition includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability.

Broken up into five sections, the ADA relates to different aspects of public life. Following is a description of the protections provided for adults living with disabilities within each section.

Title I: Employment

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees, such as an adjustment to the work environment that allows an employee with a disability to perform essential job functions. For older adults who use mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers or canes, an employer must make reasonable accommodations for employees to be able to do their work. This is also true for older adults who are experiencing hearing or vision impairments.

Title II: State and Local Government

Discrimination is prohibited against qualified individuals living with disabilities in all government programs, activities and services of public entities.

Title III: Public Accommodations

The ADA prohibits private places of public accommodation from discriminating against people living with disabilities, including hotels, restaurants, retail merchants, health clubs, sports stadiums and doctor’s offices. The ADA also requires public accommodations to eliminate barriers that prevent people living with disabilities from entering and utilizing the space. For example, ramps or elevators must be available to access health care facilities. Accommodations must also be made for customers with vision, hearing and/or speech disabilities.

Title IV: Telecommunications

Telephone and internet providers are required to make accommodations for individuals living with hearing and speech disabilities. This section of the ADA also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.

Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

The ADA covers a variety of provisions and includes a list of conditions which are not considered a disability, including compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania or psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

The ADA and older adults

The ADA is very important legislation for older adults who may experience a disability due to aging. According to the ADA National Network, more than 30% of Americans over age 65 and more than 50% of those 75-plus have a disability. These may include difficulties with vision, hearing, walking and thinking.

For older adults living with disabilities, the ADA ensures reasonable accommodations including:

  • Accessible parking near the home and in parking lots.
  • Closed captioning on television programs.
  • Assisted listening devices for theatrical or musical performances.
  • Wide paths, entrances and aisles.
  • Clear directional signage with high-contrast colors and large type, both as a physical sign and as an accommodating design on most websites.


Older adults can complete an intake with Disability Rights Pennsylvania to determine eligibility for resources at 1-800-692-7443 or

Legal Clinic for the Disabled provides free legal services to low-income people with disabilities and to the deaf and hard of hearing in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. For more information and assistance, call 215-587-3158 or visit

The SeniorLAW Center helps protect the rights of older adults and adults with disabilities and can provide legal advice and information. For more information on services, call 1-877-PA SR LAW (727-7529) or visit

Mary Anna Rodabaugh is a writer, editor and writing coach.

Categories: Advocacy Milestones eNews


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