Q. Does the ADA apply to state and local governments?
A. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. It applies to all state and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of State and local governments. It clarifies the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for public transportation, whether or not they receive Federal financial assistance. It establishes detailed standards for the operation of public transit systems, including commuter and intercity rail (AMTRAK).
Q. When do the requirements for state and local governments become effective?
A. In general, they became effective on January 26, 1992.
Q. Does title II cover a public entity's employment policies and practices?
A. Yes. Title II prohibits entities, regardless of the size of their work force, from discriminating in employment against qualified individuals with disabilities. In addition to title II's employment coverage, title I of the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by certain public entities.
Q. What changes must a public entity make to its existing facilities to make them accessible?
A. A public entity must ensure that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from services, programs, and activities because existing buildings are inaccessible. A state or local government's programs, when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This standard, known as "program accessibility," applies to facilities of a public entity that existed on January 26, 1992. Public entities do not necessarily have to make each of their existing facilities accessible. They may provide program accessibility by a number of methods including alteration of existing facilities, acquisition or construction of additional facilities, relocation of a service at alternate accessible sites.
Q. What is a self-evaluation?
A. A self-evaluation is a public entity's assessment of its current policies and practices. The self-evaluation identifies and corrects those policies and practices that are inconsistent with title II's requirements. All public entities must complete a self-evaluation by January 26, 1993. A public entity that employs 50 or more employees must retain its self-evaluation for three years. Other public entities are not required to retain their self-evaluations, but are encouraged to do so because these documents evidence a public entity's good faith efforts to comply with title II's requirements.
Q. What does title II require for new construction and alterations?
A. The ADA requires that all new buildings constructed by a State or local government be accessible. In addition, when a State or local government undertakes alterations to a building, it must make the altered portions accessible.
Q. How will a state or local government know that a new building is accessible?
A. A State or local government will be in compliance with the ADA for new construction and alterations if it follows either of two accessibility standards. It can choose either the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards or the Americans with Disabilities Act Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities, which is the standard that must be used for public accommodation and commercial facilities under title II of the ADA. If the State or local government chooses the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, it is not entitled to the elevator exemption (which permits certain private buildings under 3,000 square feet per floor to be constructed without an elevator).
Q. How will the ADA's requirements for state and local governments be enforced?
A. Private individuals may bring lawsuits to enforce their rights under title II and may receive the same remedies as those provided under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, including reasonable attorney's fees. Individuals may also file complaints with eight designated Federal agencies including the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation.
Q. What are the ADA's requirements for public transit buses?
A. The Department of Transportation has issued regulations mandating accessible public transit vehicles and facilities. The regulations include requirements that all new fixed-route, public transit buses be accessible and that supplementary paratransit services be provided for those individuals with disabilities who cannot use fixed-route bus service.
Technical Assistance Manual Excerpts
- Reasonable modifications to programs or services
- Maintenance of accessible features
- Program accessibility
See the complete ADA Title II Technical Assistance Manual for other illustrations and details. Please note that individual circumstances vary and that the ADA is changing with the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and New or Proposed Regulations from the U.S. Department of Justice.
General. A public entity must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination. If the public entity can demonstrate, however, that the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity, it is not required to make the modification.
ILLUSTRATION 1: A municipal zoning ordinance requires a set-back of 12 feet from the curb in the central business district. In order to install a ramp to the front entrance of a pharmacy, the owner must encroach on the set-back by three feet. Granting a variance in the zoning requirement may be a reasonable modification of town policy.
ILLUSTRATION 2: A county general relief program provides emergency food, shelter, and cash grants to individuals who can demonstrate their eligibility. The application process, however, is extremely lengthy and complex. When many individuals with mental disabilities apply for benefits, they are unable to complete the application process successfully. As a result, they are effectively denied benefits to which they are otherwise entitled. In this case, the county has an obligation to make reasonable modifications to its application process to ensure that otherwise eligible individuals are not denied needed benefits. Modifications to the relief program might include simplifying the application process or providing applicants who have mental disabilities with individualized assistance to complete the process.
ILLUSTRATION 3: A county ordinance prohibits the use of golf carts on public highways. An individual with a mobility impairment uses a golf cart as a mobility device. Allowing use of the golf cart as a mobility device on the shoulders of public highways where pedestrians are permitted, in limited circumstances that do not involve a significant risk to the health or safety of others, is a reasonable modification of the county policy.
Maintenance of Accessible Features
Public entities must maintain in working order equipment and features of facilities that are required to provide ready access to individuals with disabilities. Isolated or temporary interruptions in access due to maintenance and repair of accessible features are not prohibited.
Where a public entity must provide an accessible route, the route must remain accessible and not blocked by obstacles such as furniture, filing cabinets, or potted plants. An isolated instance of placement of an object on an accessible route, however, would not be a violation, if the object is promptly removed. Similarly, accessible doors must be unlocked when the public entity is open for business.
Mechanical failures in equipment such as elevators or automatic doors will occur from time to time. The obligation to ensure that facilities are readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities would be violated, if repairs are not made promptly or if improper or inadequate maintenance causes repeated and persistent failures.
ILLUSTRATION 1: It would be a violation for a building manager of a three-story building to turn off the only passenger elevator in order to save energy during the hours when the building is open.
ILLUSTRATION 2: A public high school has a lift to provide access for persons with mobility impairments to an auditorium stage. The lift is not working. If the lift normally is functional and reasonable steps have been taken to repair the lift, then the school has not violated its obligations to maintain accessible features. On the other hand, if the lift frequently does not work and reasonable steps have not been taken to maintain the lift, then the school has violated the maintenance of accessible features requirement.
ILLUSTRATION 3: Because of lack of space, a city office manager places tables and file cabinets in the hallways, which interferes with the usability of the hallway by individuals who use wheelchairs. By rendering a previously accessible hallway inaccessible, the city has violated the maintenance requirement, if that hallway is part of a required accessible route.
Regulatory references: 28 CFR 35.149-35.150.
General. A public entity may not deny the benefits of its programs, activities, and services to individuals with disabilities because its facilities are inaccessible. A public entity’s services, programs, or activities, when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities. This standard, known as “program accessibility,” applies to all existing facilities of a public entity. Public entities, however, are not ecessarily required to make each of their existing facilities accessible.
ILLUSTRATION 1: When a city holds a public meeting in an existing building, it must provide ready access to, and use of, the meeting facilities to individuals with disabilities. The city is not required to make all areas in the building accessible, as long as the meeting room is accessible. Accessible telephones and bathrooms should also be provided where these services are available for use of meeting attendees.
ILLUSTRATION 2: D, a defendant in a civil suit, has a respiratory condition that prevents her from climbing steps. Civil suits are routinely heard in a courtroom on the second floor of the courthouse. The courthouse has no elevator or other means of access to the second floor. The public entity must relocate the proceedings to an accessible ground floor courtroom or take alternative steps, including moving the proceedings to another building, in order to allow D to participate in the civil suit.
ILLUSTRATION 3: A State provides ten rest areas approximately 50 miles apart along an interstate highway. Program accessibility requires that an accessible toilet room for each sex with at least one accessible stall, or a unisex bathroom, be provided at each rest area.
Is a public entity relieved of its obligation to make its programs accessible if no individual with a disability is known to live in a particular area? No. The absence of individuals with disabilities living in an area cannot be used as the test of whether programs and activities must be accessible.
ILLUSTRATION: A rural school district has only one elementary school and it is located in a one-room schoolhouse accessible only by steps. The school board asserts that there are no students in the district who use wheelchairs. Students, however, who currently do not have a disability may become individuals with disabilities through, for example, accidents or disease. In addition, persons other than students, such as parents and other school visitors, may be qualified individuals with disabilities who are entitled to participate in school programs. Consequently, the apparent lack of students with disabilities in a school district’s service area does not excuse the school district from taking whatever appropriate steps are necessary to ensure that its programs, services, and activities are accessible to qualified individuals with disabilities.
Can back doors and freight elevators be used to satisfy the program accessibility requirement? Yes, but only as a last resort and only if such an arrangement provides accessibility comparable to that provided to persons without disabilities, who generally use front doors and passenger elevators. For example, a back door is acceptable if it is kept unlocked during the same hours the front door remains unlocked; the passageway to and from the floor is accessible, well-lit, and neat and clean; and the individual with a mobility impairment does not have to travel excessive distances or through nonpublic areas such as kitchens and storerooms to gain access. A freight elevator would be acceptable if it were upgraded so as to be usable by passengers generally and if the passageways leading to and from the elevator are well-lit and neat and clean.
Are there any limitations on the program accessibility requirement? Yes. A public entity does not have to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in a fundamental alteration in the nature of its program or activity or in undue financial and administrative burdens. This determination can only be made by the head of the public entity or his or her designee and must be accompanied by a written statement of the reasons for reaching that conclusion. The determination that undue burdens would result must be based on all resources available for use in the program. If an action would result in such an alteration or such burdens, the public entity must take any other action that would not result in such an alteration or such burdens but would nevertheless ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits and services of the program or activity.
II-5.2000 Methods for providing program accessibility. Public entities may achieve program accessibility by a number of methods. In many situations, providing access to facilities through structural methods, such as alteration of existing facilities and acquisition or construction of additional facilities, may be the most efficient method of providing program accessibility. The public entity may, however, pursue alternatives to structural changes in order to achieve program accessibility. Nonstructural methods include acquisition or redesign of equipment, assignment of aides to beneficiaries, and provision of services at alternate accessible sites.
ILLUSTRATION 1: The office building housing a public welfare agency may only be entered by climbing a flight of stairs. If an individual with a mobility impairment seeks information about welfare benefits, the agency can provide the information in an accessible ground floor location or in another accessible building.
ILLUSTRATION 2: A public library’s open stacks are located on upper floors having no elevator. As an alternative to installing a lift or elevator, library staff may retrieve books for patrons who use wheelchairs. The aides must be available during the operating hours of the library.
ILLUSTRATION 3: A public university that conducts a French course in an inaccessible building may relocate the course to a building that is readily accessible.
When choosing a method of providing program access, a public entity must give priority to the one that results in the most integrated setting appropriate to encourage interaction among all users, including individuals with disabilities.
ILLUSTRATION: A rural, one-room library has an entrance with several steps. The library can make its services accessible in several ways. It may construct a simple wooden ramp quickly and at relatively low cost. Alternatively, individuals with mobility impairments may be provided access to the library’s services through a bookmobile, by special messenger service, through use of clerical aides, or by any other method that makes the resources of the library “readily accessible.” Priority should be given, however, to constructing a ramp because that is the method that offers library services to individuals with disabilities and others in the same setting.
Is carrying an individual with a disability considered an acceptable method of achieving program access? Generally, it is not. Carrying persons with mobility impairments to provide program accessibility is permitted in only two cases. First, when program accessibility in existing facilities can be achieved only through structural alterations (that is, physical changes to the facilities), carrying may serve as a temporary expedient until construction is completed. Second, carrying is permitted in manifestly exceptional cases if (a) carriers are formally instructed on the safest and least humiliating means of carrying and (b) the service is provided in a reliable manner. Carrying is contrary to the goal of providing accessible programs, which is to foster independence.
How is “program accessibility” under title II different than “readily achievable barrier removal” under title III? Unlike private entities under title III, public entities are not required to remove barriers from each facility, even if removal is readily achievable. A public entity must make its “programs” accessible. Physical changes to a building are required only when there is no other feasible way to make the program accessible.
In contrast, barriers must be removed from places of public accommodation under title III where such removal is “readily achievable,” without regard to whether the public accommodation’s services can be made accessible through other methods.