Dispelling Myths – The Americans with Disabilities Act


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that is opening the doors to the mainstream of life for the 49 million Americans with disabilities. There are many misconceptions surrounding ADA. Listed below are the most commonly heard myths and the facts.

Assumption: ADA suits are flooding the courts.

Fact: The ADA has resulted in a surprisingly small number of lawsuits only about 650 nationwide in five years. That is tiny compared to 6 million businesses, 666,000 public and private employers, and 80,000 units of state and local governments that must comply.

Assumption: The ADA’s of disability is broad and vague and has resulted in “bizarre and arcane” discrimination claims that are wasting the time of the EEOC and the courts.

FACT: As with any new statute, there is a period during which employees learn about their rights and obligations under the law. While individuals have the right to file charges, not all charges are meritorious. The job of the EEOC investigator is to separate the wheat from the chaff. Further, the flexibility provided by the ADA definition of “disability” means that there will be individuals who bring claims for conditions that do not satisfy the statutory standards, and the claim will be dismissed.

Assumption: The ADA forces businesses and government to spend lots of money hiring unqualified people with disabilities.

FACT: To be protected by the ADA an individual must be qualified. No unqualified job applicant or employee with a disability can claim employment discrimination under the ADA. Employees or job applicants must meet all the necessary requirements of the job and perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation. No accommodation must be provided if it would result in an undue hardship on the employer.

Assumption: The ADA, along with other laws such as the FMLA and Workers’ Compensation, are squeezing out small businesses that cannot afford to hire human resource specialists to advise them regarding the complexities of these laws.

FACT: Truly small businesses, those with fewer than 15 employees, are not covered by the ADA. (The FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees.) For employers who are covered, the ADA provides an undue hardship defense for reasonable accommodations that are unduly costly or burdensome. Smaller employers can more easily establish undue hardship because they have fewer resources. Assumption:

The ADA is being misused by people alleging mental and neurological impairments.

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FACT: The ADA covers individuals with physical and mental impairments that substantially limit major life activities because individuals with such impairments have traditionally been subjected to pervasive employment discrimination. Just as the ADA excludes people with temporary physical problems, so does it exclude people with mild or short-term mental health problems,. Neurological impairments are conditions or diseases involving the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, ganglia, nerves, and nerve centers. ADA charges indicate that there is significant discrimination against persons with neurological impairments. Psychiatric impairments involve a biological, social or psychological dysfunction. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities have traditionally been subjected to discrimination, not because they are unable to successfully perform job duties, but because of myths, fears and stereotypes associated with such impairments.

Assumption: The ADA is rigid and requires businesses to spend lots of money to make their existing facilities accessible.

FACT: The ADA is based on common sense. The law recognizes that altering existing structures is more costly than making new construction accessible. The law only requires that public accommodations (e.g., stores, banks, hotels, and restaurants) remove architectural barriers in existing facilities when it is “readily achievable” (i.e., it can be done “without much difficulty or expense”). Inexpensive, easy steps that can be taken include ramping one step, installing a bathroom grab bar, lowering a paper towel dispenser, rearranging furniture, installing offset hinges to widen the doorway, or painting new lines to create an accessible parking space.

Assumption: ADA requires that sign language interpreters be used in all situations involving persons who are deaf.

FACT: The ADA only requires that effective communications not exclude people with disabilities – which in many situations means providing written materials or exchanging notes. The law does not require any measure that would cause an undue financial or administrative hardship.

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Workforce diversity has become a major management strategy for many employers in the 1990’s because it makes good business sense. A diverse workforce gives companies a competitive advantage by enabling them to better meet the needs of their customers, successfully compete in the global marketplace, and hire from an expanded labor pool.

Managing diversity involves the creation of an open, supportive, and responsive organization in which diversity is acknowledged and valued. Diversity is defined as all of the ways in which we differ. Some of these dimensions are race, gender, age, language, physical characteristics, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other differences irrelevant to one’s capacity to perform a job.

Why Do I Need To Know About Diversity And People With Disabilities?

According to recent studies, America’s workforce is changing and rapidly growing more diverse. Over the next few decades, the largest percentage of new growth will be composed of women, ethnic minorities, and immigrants. The number of employees with disabilities will also increase. The current generation of Americans with disabilities is well prepared to provide a solution for the labor shortages facing American business.

People with disabilities are the nation’s largest minority, and the only one that any person can join in at any time. If you do not currently have a disability, you have about a 20% chance of becoming disabled at some point during your work life. People with disabilities cross all racial, gender, educational, socio economic, and organizational lines.

Companies that include people with disabilities in their diversity programs increase their competitive advantage. People with disabilities add to the variety of viewpoints needed to be successful and bring effective solutions to today’s business challenges. The American economy is made stronger when all segments of the population are included in the workforce and in the customer base.

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How Can My Company Support Diversity, Including Employees With Disabilities?

1. Educate Yourself

  • Before moving ahead, study the issue
  • Learn more about people with disabilities. A good way to start is to contact disability related organizations for information.
  • Contact your local Governor’s
  • Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, Centers for Independent Living, State/Local Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies, and organizations and agencies that serve or represent specific disabilities. Many of these organizations want to assist the business sector, and some provide free training and literature.
  • Talk to people with disabilities in your company and ask for their ideas and input.

2. Develop A Plan

  • Establish a system for educating and sensitizing all levels of your workforce on the value of hiring people with disabilities.
  • If you have a diversity training program, make sure that employees with disabilities are included in this effort.

3. Consider The Following Action Items:

Recruitment and Outreach

  • Even before positions open, seek out opportunities to develop relationships with organizations, agencies, and programs that represent or train people with disabilities.
  • Participate or increase participation in summer internships or similar programs to increase the flow of qualified individuals with disabilities in the “pipeline.”
  • When a position is improved for external hire, seek out qualified professional organizations that represent and serve people with disabilities.
  • When contracting with a retainer or contingency search firm, develop the contract to include qualified people with disabilities in the search. The contract should outline the steps that will be implemented to locate qualified people with disabilities.

Development And Planning

  • When task forces or other special committees are established, they should include people with disabilities.
  • Monitor to ensure that internal development programs are available to employees with disabilities.
  • Provide employees with disabilities candid and prompt feedback on their performance.
  • When providing training or other off-site activities, make sure that they are accessible to employees with disabilities.

Compensation And Recognition

  • Monitor bonuses and stock awards so that consistent job-related standards are applied.
  • Monitor appraisal and total compensation systems so individuals with disabilities are treated without discrimination.

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