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What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?


The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was and still is a historic piece of legislation that impacts any person with a disability and even the non-disabled people in their lives. However, not many people understand the full scope of this life-changing law.

Today, we go into the various protections afforded by the ADA and its effects on American lives since its passage in 1990. Read on to learn the history of this act and the different titles that protect the rights of you or someone you know from discrimination on the basis of disability. 

What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA is a legal framework protecting the rights of Americans and visitors to this country with various disabilities. It protects the rights of a person with disabilities in all aspects of life, including home, work, public settings, school, and communication channels. 

At the time of its passage, the ADA was significant because it codified the rights of people with disabilities into federal law and did so in the civil, public, and federal sectors. Before the act, states largely decided the rights of people with disabilities.

Throughout the history of disability rights, disabled people and their allies throughout the country dedicated their time and efforts to championing civil rights for disabled people. Passionate, educated activists sought to leverage their influence to press states into passing legislation that guaranteed and expanded the rights of people with disabilities. They were successful nationally before the passage of the ADA but in several more minor ways. 

Before the passage of the ADA in 1990, national legislation for Americans with disabilities included the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibited discrimination based on disability in federally run programs. The focus was primarily on the federal sector. However, even following its passage into law, there was controversy regarding regulations in section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Protests related to failings to fully enact the law were one of the powder-keg moments that eventually led to the creation and passage of the ADA.  

5 Titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act itself is divided into different sections, known as “Titles.” Understanding these titles and how they impact a person’s life is key to understanding the significance of the ADA.  

The five titles are the following:

  • Employment
  • Public Service
  • Public Accommodations
  • Telecommunications
  • Miscellaneous

Title I: Employment

The first title of the ADA is known as “Employment.” This title refers to the first section of the ADA extending numerous employment protections to disabled Americans. A key term for this section of the act is “Reasonable Accommodations.” 

In the context of title I, reasonable accommodations refer to actions employers can take to make employment feasible and accessible for a person with disabilities. These accommodations might include providing accessible work environments, such as by installing wheelchair ramps or improving accessibility for existing facilities. They might also involve modifying the hiring process and providing qualified readers or interpreters for job candidates.   

These accommodations ensure that a person with a disability can obtain employment. Often, these accommodations also benefit every employee.

Title II: Public Service

The“Public Service” title ensures that disabled people cannot be denied service by public services, including passenger trains, public buses, and public housing. 

This title also includes the legal stipulation that service providers of these public transit services make any changes necessary to become publicly accessible. 

The benefits of this title extend beyond transportation. For example, because of this title, a person with disabilities cannot be denied service by law enforcement based on perceived or actual disabilities.

Title III: Public Accommodations

“Public Accommodations” provides protections for disabled people using services or facilities open to the public, such as grocery stores, hotels, and restaurants. Title III ensures that businesses do the bare minimum in ensuring accessibility. 

Certain legal protections, such as the right to a service dog, fall under titles II and III. These categories confer rights on the person with the disability and their dog to access public services and receive reasonable accommodations without fear of discrimination.  

Title IV: Telecommunications

The protections offered by the fourth title of the ADA ensure that all telecommunications companies that offer general service to the public also have telecommunications relay service (TRS). This service costs nothing to its users, and the telephone companies receive compensation from the government for their services in providing this system. 

TRS is a system that allows those who are deaf or hard of hearing to place and receive telephone calls. Many different TRS systems exist. For example, Voice Carry Over allows those who are deaf but can speak to communicate with the other party on the line and receive text-based captioned responses from the service provider. Another system is the Captioned Telephone Service, which accommodates those who are hard of hearing but still have some level of hearing. Captioned Telephone Service provides a caller using it with a text screen on which they can read captions of the responses they are getting from the other party. 

Title V: Miscellaneous

The final title of the ADA protects its beneficiaries from being the targets of threats. It also extends critically important protection to those who assist Americans with disabilities, ensuring that their allies need not fear reprisal for coming to their aid. 


The ADA is critically important legislation that has ensured that millions of Americans with disabilities can live with dignity and access the same services that other non-disabled people use. There is still more to do to protect and make equal the lives of Americans with disabilities, but the ADA was a solid step in the right direction.

If you have a service dog and want to exercise your full rights under the ADA, register your animal now with Service Dog Registration of America. Registration makes it easier to have your rights respected, and we have a shop full of vests, collars, tags, and other identifying gear. Minimize those awkward probing conversations and register your service dog today!