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The Americans with Disabilities Act Glossary of Terms

The definitions used in this glossary were taken from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), EEOC guidances, and other reference materials. They are commonly used terms and may have various definitions depending on their context.

Access Board:
an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. The Access Board developed the accessibility guidelines for the ADA and provides technical assistance and training on these guidelines. The agency also is referred to as the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.
refers to a site, facility, work environment, service, or program that is easy to approach, enter, operate, participate in, and/or use safely and with dignity by a person with a disability.
Affirmative Action:
a set of positive steps that employers use to promote equal employment opportunity and to eliminate discrimination. It includes expanded outreach, recruitment, mentoring, training, management development and other programs designed to help employers hire, retain and advance qualified workers from diverse backgrounds, including persons with disabilities. Affirmative action means inclusion, not exclusion. Affirmative action does not mean quotas and is not mandated by the ADA.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA):
a comprehensive, federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities in employment, state and local government programs and activities, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA):
enacted on September 25, 2008, and becoming effective on January 1, 2009, making a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” and directing the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its ADA regulations to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA. The final regulations were published in the Federal Register on March 25, 2011.
Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG):
scoping and technical requirements to be applied during the design, construction, and alteration of buildings and facilities covered by titles II and III of the ADA to the extent required by regulations issued by federal agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Department of Transportation.
Auxiliary Aids and Services:
under titles II and III of the ADA, includes a wide range of services and devices that promote effective communication or allows access to goods and services. Examples of auxiliary aids and services for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing include qualified interpreters, notetakers, computer-aided transcription services, written materials, telephone handset amplifiers, assistive listening systems, telephones compatible with hearing aids, closed caption decoders, open and closed captioning, telecommunications devices for deaf persons (TDDs), videotext displays, and exchange of written notes. Examples for individuals with vision impairments include qualified readers, taped texts, audio recordings, Brailled materials, large print materials, and assistance in locating items. Examples for individuals with speech impairments include TDDs, computer terminals, speech synthesizers, and communication boards.
Civil Rights Act of 1991:
federal law that capped compensatory and punitive damages under title I of the ADA for intentional job discrimination. The law also amended the ADA's definition of an employee, adding "with respect to employment in a foreign country, such term includes an individual who is a citizen of the United States."
Covered Entity:
under the ADA, "covered entity" is an entity that must comply with the law. Under title I, covered entities include employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, or joint labor-management committees. Under title II, covered entities include state and local government instrumentalities, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and other commuter authorities, and public transportation systems. Under title III, covered entities include public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, etc., as well as privately owned transportation systems.
Direct Threat:
a significant risk to the health or safety of a person with a disability or to others that cannot be eliminated by reasonable accommodation.
with respect to an individual: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.
a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such person. Exceptions: The term "employer'' does not include the United States, a corporation wholly owned by the government of the United States, or an Indian tribe; or a bona fide private membership club (other than a labor organization) that is exempt from taxation under section 501(c) of title 26 [the Internal Revenue Code of 1986].
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
the federal agency charged with enforcing title I of the ADA.
Essential Job Functions:
the fundamental job duties of the employment position that the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term essential functions does not include marginal functions of the position.
Equal Employment Opportunity:
an opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are available to an average similarly-situated employee without a disability.
Existing Facility:
refers to buildings that were constructed before the ADA went into effect. A public accommodation's building constructed before the effective date of title III does not have to be fully accessible unless the removal of barriers, including structural ones, is readily achievable.
term used in the ADA definition of disability. Includes any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more body systems, such as neurological, musculoskeletal, special sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genitourinary, immune, circulatory, hemic, lymphatic, skin, and endocrine; or any mental or psychological disorder, such as an intellectual disability (formerly termed "mental retardation"), organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
Job Analysis:
a formal process in which information about a specific job or occupation is collected and analyzed.
Job Description:
a detailed summary, usually written, of the major components of a job. A typical job description consists of six major components: essential job functions, knowledge and critical skills, physical demands, environmental factors, the roles of the ADA and other federal laws such as the Occupational Safety Health Act (OSH Act), and any explanatory information that may be necessary to clarify job duties or responsibilities.
Job Related and Consistent with Business Necessity:
standard used to determine whether a qualification standard or employment policy concerns an essential aspect of the job and is required to meet the needs of the business.
Light Duty:
has a number of different meanings in the employment setting. Generally, "light duty" refers to temporary or permanent work that is physically or mentally less demanding than normal job duties. Some employers use the term "light duty" to mean simply excusing an employee from performing those job functions that s/he is unable to perform because of an impairment. "Light duty" also may consist of particular positions with duties that are less physically or mentally demanding created specifically for the purpose of providing alternative work for employees who are unable to perform some or all of their normal duties. Further, an employer may refer to any position that is sedentary or is less physically or mentally demanding as "light duty." The term is often associated with workers compensation programs.
Major Life Activity:
term used in the ADA definition of disability. It refers to activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty. Major life activities include, but are not limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, sitting, reaching, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, interacting with others, and working; and the operation of a major bodily function, including functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin; normal cell growth; and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive functions. The operation of a major bodily function includes the operation of an individual organ within a body system.
Marginal Job Functions:
functions that are not considered essential to a job. Employers must consider removing marginal job functions as an accommodation under the ADA, but do not have to remove essential functions as an accommodation.
Medical Examination:
a procedure or test that seeks information about an individual's physical or mental impairments or health. The following factors should be considered to determine whether a test (or procedure) is a medical examination: (1) whether the test is administered by a health care professional; (2) whether the test is interpreted by a health care professional; (3) whether the test is designed to reveal an impairment or physical or mental health; (4) whether the test is invasive; (5) whether the test measures an employee's performance of a task or measures his/her physiological responses to performing the task; (6) whether the test normally is given in a medical setting; and, (7) whether medical equipment is used. In many cases, a combination of factors will be relevant in determining whether a test or procedure is a medical examination. In other cases, one factor may be enough to determine that a test or procedure is medical.
Mitigating Measures:
medical treatment or devices that lessen the effects of an impairment. When determining whether a person is substantially limited in a major life activity, we ignore the beneficial effects of mitigating measures except ordinary eyeglasses or contact lens. Mitigating measures include things such as: medication, medical supplies, equipment, or appliances, low-vision devices (defined as devices that magnify, enhance, or otherwise augment a visual image, but not including ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics including limbs and devices, hearing aid(s) and cochlear implant(s) or other implantable hearing devices, mobility devices, and oxygen therapy equipment and supplies; use of assistive technology; reasonable accommodations or "auxiliary aids or services," learned behavioral or adaptive neurological modifications; or psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or physical therapy.
Public Accommodations:
entities that must comply with title III. The term includes facilities whose operations affect commerce and fall within at least one of the following 12 categories: places of lodging (e.g., inns, hotels, motels) (except for owner-occupied establishments renting fewer than six rooms); establishments serving food or drink (e.g., restaurants and bars); places of exhibition or entertainment (e.g., motion picture houses, theaters, concert halls, stadiums); places of public gathering (e.g., auditoriums, convention centers, lecture halls); sales or rental establishments (e.g., bakeries, grocery stores, hardware stores, shopping centers); service establishments (e.g., laundromats, dry-cleaners, banks, barber shops, beauty shops, travel services, shoe repair services, funeral parlors, gas stations, offices of accountants or lawyers, pharmacies, insurance offices, professional offices of health care providers, hospitals); public transportation terminals, depots, or stations (not including facilities relating to air transportation); places of public display or collection (e.g., museums, libraries, galleries); places of recreation (e.g., parks, zoos, amusement parks); places of education (e.g., nursery schools, elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or postgraduate private schools); social service center establishments (e.g., day care centers, senior citizen centers, homeless shelters, food banks, adoption agencies); and places of exercise or recreation (e.g., gymnasiums, health spas, bowling alleys, golf courses).
Public Entity:
entities that must comply with Title II. The term is defined as: any state or local government; any department, agency, special purpose district, or other instrumentality of a state or local government; or certain commuter authorities as well as AMTRAK. It does not include the federal government.
Qualified Individual:
an individual who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability against a qualified individual.
Readily Achievable:
easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. In determining whether an action is readily achievable, factors to be considered include nature and cost of the action, overall financial resources and the effect on expenses and resources, legitimate safety requirements, impact on the operation of a site, and, if applicable, overall financial resources, size, and type of operation of any parent corporation or entity. Under Title III, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing facilities if it is readily achievable to do so.
Reasonable Accommodation:
under Title I, a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. Reasonable accommodation is a key nondiscrimination requirement of the ADA.
Substantially Limits:
a comparative term used in the ADA definition of disability. An impairment is a disability if it substantially limits the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared to most people in the general population. An impairment need not prevent, or significantly or severely restrict, the individual from performing a major life activity in order to be considered substantially limiting.
Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973:
title of the law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of a disability by the federal government, federal contractors, by recipients of federal financial assistance, and in federally conducted programs and activities.
Transition Plan:
refers to a requirement that state and local governments employing 50 or more people have plans detailing structural changes necessary to achieve program accessibility.
Undue Burden:
with respect to complying with Title II or Title III of the ADA, significant difficulty or expense incurred by a covered entity, when considered in light of certain factors. These factors include: the nature and cost of the action; the overall financial resources of the site or sites involved; the number of persons employed at the site; the effect on expenses and resources; legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation, including crime prevention measures; or any other impact of the action on the operation of the site; the geographic separateness, and the administrative or fiscal relationship of the site or sites in question to any parent corporation or entity; if applicable, the overall financial resources of any parent corporation or entity; the overall size of the parent corporation or entity with respect to the number of its employees; the number, type, and location of its facilities; and if applicable, the type of operation or operations of any parent corporation or entity, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce of the parent corporation or entity.
Undue Hardship:
with respect to the provision of an accommodation under Title I of the ADA, significant difficulty or expense incurred by a covered entity, when considered in light of certain factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relationship to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer s operation. Where the facility making the accommodation is part of a larger entity, the structure and overall resources of the larger organization would be considered, as well as the financial and administrative relationship of the facility to the larger organization. Employers do not have to provide accommodations that cause an undue hardship.
Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS):
one of two standards that state and local governments can use to comply with title II's accessibility requirement for new construction and alterations. The other standard is the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.
U.S. Department of Justice:
federal agency that is responsible for enforcing titles II and III of the ADA.
U.S. Department of Transportation:
federal agency that enforces nondiscrimination in public and private transportation. Nondiscrimination includes access to public bus, train and paratransit, as well as privately operated bus and shuttle transportation. The ADA does not cover air transportation, which is subject to the Air Carrier Access Act.

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