What is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) provides civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities like those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, State and local government services, and telecommunications.
The ADA has five sections or "titles" which address different areas of the law. Title II of the ADA addresses state and local governments, such as Sonoma County. Title II protects qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of disability in accessing government services, programs, or activities.
Who are individuals with disabilities?
The ADA protects three categories of individuals:
- Individuals who have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities - including blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, cancer, heart disease; mental retardation, brain injury, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
- Individuals who have a record of a physical or mental disability that substantially limited one or more of the individual's major life activities, including people who have recovered from mental or emotional illness, drug addiction, heart disease, or cancer.
- Individuals who are regarded as having such a disability, regardless of whether they have the disability. Common examples are someone who is obese or someone who is scarred due to injury, where there is no functional implication, but people may regard the person differently.
Who are "qualified" individuals with disabilities?
To be qualified, the individual must meet the essential eligibility requirements for receipt of services or participation in county programs, activities, or services with or without
- Reasonable modifications to a public entity's rules, policies, or practices;
- Removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or
- Provision of auxiliary aids and services.
Health and safety factors can be taken into account in determining who is qualified. An individual who poses a "direct threat" to the health or safety of others is not qualified. A direct threat is a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level by accommodations or modifications to the program. This threat must be real and may not be based on generalizations or stereotypes about the effects of a particular disability.
What are the requirements of Title II?
Equality in participation and benefits: Those with disabilities must have an equally effective opportunity to participate in or benefit from county programs, services, and activities. (See the "Equally Effective Communication" section below) Examples -
- A deaf individual does not experience equal opportunity to benefit from attending a public meeting if she does not have access to what is said through an interpreter or by using an assistive listening device.
- Someone who uses a wheelchair will not have an equal opportunity to participate in a program if applications must be filed in a second floor office of a building without an elevator
- Use of printed information alone is not equally effective for those with low vision who cannot read regular written material.
Integrated setting ("mainstreaming"): Individuals with disabilities cannot be excluded from regular programs or required to accept accommodations. CRPUSD may offer separate or special programs when necessary to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the programs. Examples -
- A recreation department sponsors a separate basketball team for wheelchair users.
- A museum offers a tour for blind people which permits them to touch and handle specific objects on a limited basis (but cannot exclude a blind person from the standard tour).
Eligibility criteria and medical inquiries: CRPUSD's eligibility criteria for participation in its programs, services, or activities must not screen out or tend to screen out people with disabilities, except in rare instances when such requirements are necessary. A program cannot request medical information unless it can demonstrate that each piece of information requested is needed to ensure safe participation in the program.
Safety: CRPUSD may impose legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of its services, programs, and activities. Safety requirements must be based on real risks, not on speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about people with disabilities
Surcharges: Although providing accommodations may result in some additional cost, CRPUSD may not place a surcharge only on particular individuals with disabilities to cover expenses. For example, there can be no extra program charge to a deaf person who benefited from interpreter services, or to groups of people with disabilities, but a tuition fee may be increased for all students.
Reasonable modifications: CRPUSD must reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to ensure access and equal opportunity to individuals with disabilities. For example, a lengthy and complex application process could be modified for people with mental disabilities who are unable to complete the process on their own. Modifications might include simplifying the process or individually assisting applicants.
Personal services and devices: CRPUSD is not required to provide people with disabilities with personal or individually prescribed devices (hearing aids or communication devices) or to provide services of a personal nature (such as assistance in eating, toileting or dressing).
Maintenance of accessible features: CRPUSD must ensure equipment and features of facilities are in working order and accessible to individuals with disabilities. Isolated or temporary interruptions in access due to maintenance and repair of accessible features are acceptable.
What is equally effective communication?
CRPUSD must ensure that its communications with people with disabilities are as effective as its communications with others. CRPUSD is required to provide appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication. Primary consideration must be given to the choice of auxiliary aid requested by the disabled person. Whatever accommodation is requested, CRPUSD must seek to provide it unless it is determined to be an undue administrative or financial hardship. Examples of auxiliary aids and services --
- Deaf or hard of hearing: qualified interpreters, notetakers, real-time captioning, written materials, assistive listening systems, open and closed captioning, TTYs, and exchange of written notes.
- Blind or low vision: qualified readers; audiotape, Braille, or large print materials; and assistance in locating items.
- Speech disability: TTYs, computer terminals (just take turns typing back and forth).
What are the requirements for facility access?
Sonoma County must ensure its programs, activities, and services are accessible to individuals with disabilities. One key aspect of that is facilities access.
New Construction: All newly constructed facilities (begun after 1-26-92) must be in strict compliance with federal and state building accessibility codes.
Alteration and Renovation of Existing Construction: CRPUSD is required to make modifications to existing facilities that are "readily achievable" to ensure services, programs and activities are accessible. Some exemptions are provided for historic properties. In addition, generally, if a facility or part of the facility will be significantly altered or renovated, meeting current code requirements may be applicable.
Overall Program Access: CRPUSD is not necessarily required to make every pre-ADA facility fully compliant with current accessibility codes. However, county services, programs, or activities must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities when viewed in their entirety. This is called "overall program access." For example, not all pre-ADA swimming facilities must be accessible, but there must be an alternate and proximate swimming facility that is accessible.
Overall program accessibility can be achieved a number of ways. Structural options include altering existing facilities or constructing new ones. Nonstructural options include-
- Acquisition or redesign of equipment
- Assignment of aides to assist individuals with disabilities
- Provision of services at alternate accessible sites
CRPUSD must give priority to the option that results in the most integrated setting appropriate to encourage interaction among all users, including those with disabilities.