Disability Law


Disability law refers to laws related to individuals with disabilities; largely, these laws protect disabled individuals from certain kinds of discrimination, particularly regarding employment, housing, education, and access to public services. Today, disability law is largely regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The ADA is codified in Title 42, Sections 12101-12213 of the U.S. Code.

In, 42 U.S. Code § 12102, 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."

The ADA further requires that reasonable accommodations be made so as to provide individuals with disabilities equal opportunities. Agencies and departments charged with enforcement of the ADA include the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Justice.

"Substantially Limits"

The term "substantially limits" has led to litigation to determine the scope of the phrase. In Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002), the Supreme Court clarified that the phrase means that "an individual must have an impairment that prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people's daily lives."

"Major Life Activities"

In Bragdon v. Abbott, 524 U.S. 624 (1998), a woman's ability to reproduce constitutes a major life activity. 

Other Statutes with Discrimination Protection

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.

State Protections

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

Further Reading

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Federal Material

U.S. Constitution and Federal Statutes

Federal Agency Regulations

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State Material

State Statutes

  • Uniform Duties to Disabled Persons Act (adopted in Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma)
  • Uniform Veterans' Guardianship Act (adopted in Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virgin Islands, Washington, and Wisconsin)
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