What is Disability Law?

Legal Definition
Disability law is largely regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, housing, education, and access to public services.

The ADA defines a disability as any of the following:

  1. "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the individual."
  2. "a record of such impairment." or
  3. "being regarded as having such an impairment."
  4. While alcoholism is included as a disability, other socially undesirable behavior is excluded from the Act. For example, sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, and pyromania are all excluded. The ADA, however, does not list all impairments covered. The ADA further requires that reasonable accomodation be made so as to provide individuals with disabilities equal opportunities. Agenices and departments charged with enforcement of the ADA include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice.

    States may pass disability statutes so long as they are consistent with the ADA.

    Other statutes prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities include the Fair Housing Act, Rehabilitation Act, Air Carrier Access Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling, renting, or denying housing because of an individual's disability. Owners are further required to make reasonable exceptions in their housing policies so as to afford equal housing opportunities to those with disabilities.

    The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs recieving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. Its standards mirror those of the ADA.

    Under the Air Carrier Access Act, air carriers are prohibited from discrimination against qualified individuals with physical and/or mental impairments.

    Finally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restricitve environment according to their needs.