By Erin Vallely, ATI Advocacy Specialist

June 30, 2023



The first major political win for the disability rights movement occurred in 1977 with the enforcement of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.  Section 504 banned disability discrimination by organizations and programs that receive federal funding.  This legislation was written similarly to previous civil rights laws which banned race, ethnic origin, and sex-based discrimination by federal fund recipients.  While the enforcement of Section 504 was a victory worth celebrating, advocates knew they still had a long way to go before they had equal rights to nondisabled citizens.

History and Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Disability advocates and their allies continued to collect stories from people across the country about discrimination and accessibility in the decades that followed.  They continued to advocate for more protections and worked with government representatives to draft another civil rights law to address the remaining problems disabled and chronically ill people faced.  This work ultimately led to the disability community’s next major legislative victory with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act by President George H. W. Bush in 1990.  

The ADA legislation is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. The purpose of the law is to make sure that disabled and chronically ill people have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.  Anyone who has any type of diagnosed disability, has a history of a disability, or who might have a disability is protected under this law.  The ADA is broken up into five different sections, which are called titles.  The different titles set out the requirements and guidelines for different areas of society.  Read on to learn more about everything the ADA covers.  


Americans with Disabilities Act Titles 

Title I: The first title covers employment discrimination.  Private organizations, state and local governments, employment agencies, and labor unions cannot discriminate against individuals with disabilities or chronic illnesses.  People are protected from discrimination during the job application, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, conditions, and privileges of employment. The ADA covers employers with 15 or more employees.  Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled and chronically ill individuals.

Title II: The second title covers discrimination in state and local government settings.  All government programs, services and activities must be accessible to disabled and chronically ill people.  They cannot deny people the chance to participate or make them participate in different programs than those available to others.  They are required to make all communications accessible, be located in accessible buildings, make reasonable accommodations for participants, and allow legal service animals into government spaces.

Title III: The third title covers discrimination in public places.  All businesses, nonprofits, and organizations that the public can access cannot discriminate against disabled and chronically ill people.  They are required to make all communications accessible, make their building accessible when possible or as they do construction, make reasonable accommodations for people, and allow legal service animals to accompany people even when pets are not allowed.  Although not originally included in the legislation, the government has stated that this title applies to websites and technology accessibility as well because the Internet is now considered a public space.

Title IV: Title four covers discrimination in television and telephone services.  All television and telephone services cannot discriminate against disabled and chronically ill individuals.  It requires all telephone companies to provide a nationwide system of relay services so people with hearing and speech disabilities can communicate over the telephone.  It also requires captioning to be available on TV channels and during emergency announcements.

Title V: Title five covers discrimination and related issues in a variety of areas of society.  It covers insurance issues, explains the relationship between the ADA and other, previously existing laws and defines explicit restrictions against retaliation or coercion against anyone with a disability or chronic illness who enforces their civil rights.  It also covers the ability of the U.S. Access Board to create construction and other guideline documents, and establishes technical assistance expectations.

While the ADA has had a major impact on people’s lives, the disability and chronic illness community still faces accessibility barriers and discrimination in many areas of life.  Oftentimes, the ADA is still not followed unless people are forced to.


Get Involved!   

While it is especially important for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to understand their rights and protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act, everyone should have an understanding of the law and relevant titles.  Here are some great steps you can take to learn more about the ADA and what responsibilities you have under it:

If you, or someone you know, has questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act, is experiencing discrimination, or wants to learn more about accessibility and inclusion, please contact Erin Vallely at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  She can help answer questions and develop solutions to the issues you face regarding accessibility and inclusion.