Americans With Disabilities Act: A Summary


An extension of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 into the Private Sector

Draws directly from Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968

The ADA uses a three-part definition of disability:



The first part of the definition acknowledges the necessity of considering both impairment (e.g., symptoms of schizophrenia) and functional consequences (e.g., being temporarily unable to work).


The second and third components of the definition extend the protection to those who have a history of substantially limiting impairment or disability, and to those who are simply regarded as disabled. This language recognizes that even if a person is now recovered, his or her history of disability may still put him or her at risk of discrimination. Furthermore, regardless of an individual’s abilities, all persons are protected from discrimination based on others’ perceptions of disability. These later two parts of the ADA’s definition of disability are especially important for protecting individuals from the negative and stigmatizing attitudes which some people still hold toward mental illness.


The ADA is divided into four parts. The most frequently discussed is Title I, the portion of the ADA related to employment.


Titles II, III, and IV prohibit discrimination in public services, privately owned and public accommodations, and telecommunications.


Almost no part of public life is untouched by the ADA


Close Up on the ADA Title I : Employment

Title I of the ADA forbid discrimination against qualified people with disabilities in every employment decision, including hiring, advancement, or discharge by employers.

Employers with 15 or fewer employees are exempt from compliance with Title I.

There are a few common questions which commonly come up with reference to Title I of the ADA. Those questions and some of their answers are as follows:


·        How will employers know if current workers or applicants have psychiatric disabilities?

·        Disclosure is always a personal decision on the part of the worker. Employers will not know that an employee has a psychiatric disability unless he or she chooses to discuss it.


The ADA prohibits employers from asking job applicants if they have psychiatric disabilities.

Examples of questions which are not allowed include:


How will employers know if persons with mental illnesses are fit for the job?

As usual, the ADA requires that applicants be evaluated based on fit between the demands of the job and the potential employees’ related skills, work experience, or education.



A. Why might an employee choose to disclose?

Need for accommodations

Need for time off

B. Why might an employee choose not to disclose?

Risk of stigma & discrimination

Lack of trust

Lack of comfort

C. How might psychiatric disabilities affect an individual’s functioning in the work place?

It is impossible to generalize about ALL people with psychiatric disabilities.

When asked how their mental illness affects their functioning on the job, some people talk about:

- difficulty maintaining concentration

- medication side effects, e.g., hand tremors, sleepiness, blurred vision.

- difficulty focusing on multiple tasks at once.

difficulty in job environments with a lot of noise and distractions.


D. What types of accommodations might be helpful for workers with psychiatric disabilities?

Like all employees, workers with psychiatric disabilities may benefit from good and effective supervisors who:

-Approach each employee with an open mind about strengths & abilities

-Clearly state expectations for performance

-Give timely and positive feedback along with criticism of performance

-Are flexible and fair in enforcement of policies and assignments

Some workers may additionally need;

-Schedules which incorporate flex-time

-Part time work

-Time off for medical appointments or support groups

-Flexible (rather than strictly scheduled) break times

-Physical arrangements to reduce noise or other distractions

-Additional leave after a hospitalization

-Use of a phone to contact personal and professional support systems

-A job coach