The Law

Provides an overview of the ADA, its relevance to psychology and to psychologists working in a variety of settings. 1996, Pamphlet. Produced by the Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology (CDIP) of the American Psychological Association

The Law

The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal statute designed to prevent discrimination and to promote equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. The ADA provides protection against discrimination for persons who have physical, sensory, or mental disabilities that substantially limit one or more daily life functions. The ADA provides civil rights protection to persons with disabilities in the areas of:

  • Employment,

  • Access to public services,

  • Access to public and private transportation,

  • Telecommunication services.

The ADA provides legal recourse for persons with disabilities to address discrimination based on their disability.

The ADA has four titles. These are:

Title I – Prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in the area of employment including hiring and promotion practices, as well as employee benefits such as training, fringe benefits, and social opportunities that are designated as part of the job description.

Title II – States that local and state governments are prohibited from discrimination on the basis of a person's disability.

Title III – Mandates that all public accommodations to which the general public has access, including services, businesses, agencies, public transportation, and other entities, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Title IV – States that all telecommunications must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Key Concepts

Relevance of ADA to psychologists
The mandates of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 apply to psychologists who work in a number of different settings:

  • Private Clinical Practice

  • Academic Settings

  • Health Facility Settings

  • Employment Settings

Who is an individual with a disability under the ADA?
A person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his or her major life activities;

  • Has a record of such an impairment; or

  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Who must comply with the ADA?

  • Employers with 15 or more employees are considered a covered entity under ADA.

  • Public facilities such as state and government agencies and offices.

  • All organizations, agencies, and businesses that provide services to the general public.

What are the major requirements of the ADA?

  • Covered entities are required to provide people with disabilities with equal access to services and employment opportunities offered to the general public. Such accommodations could include:

  • Installing a ramp or widening a doorway to an office so that individuals who use wheelchairs or scooters can enter a site.

  • Providing a sign language interpreter during a job interview for a person who is deaf or hard of hearing.

  • Making test materials available in an alternative format such as braille or audiotape or providing a reader to a person who is blind.


If you as a psychologist are an employer, ask yourself these questions and determine compliance with the ADA:

  • Am I familiar with the pre-employment and medical screening prohibitions in the ADA?

  • Do I know how to identify the essential functions of a position?

  • Do I know what the confidentiality requirements of the ADA are?

  • Am I Aware of the ADA on Collective Bargaining Agreements?

  • Am I able to advise employees about the impact of the ADA on Collective Bargaining Agreements?

  • Am I aware of technical assistance resources available to assist in the identification of an appropriate accommodation for a particular employee?

If you are a psychologist in private practice, research, or teaching, ask yourself the following to determine your compliance with the mandates of the ADA:

  • Are my office and the facility where I teach classes accessible to persons with mobility disabilities?

  • Are internship locations in the community accessible?

  • Are the materials that I use for class instruction, research, and clinical work accessible to people with learning, visual, or hearing disabilities?

  • Is our state psychological licensure examination fully accessible to qualified applicants with disabilities?

  • Is it possible for persons with visual and auditory disabilities to learn about and seek out my services?

  • Am I prepared to seek the services of an interpreter, reader, or other support person for a client with disability when such accommodation is requested?

Going Beyond the ADA: Moving Toward Inclusion

Points to remember

  • People with disabilities are as diverse as the general population. It is unwise to generalize about persons with disabilities or persons with a specific disability.

  • Prior to making any assumptions about what a person needs, always ask the individual with the disability.

  • The best resources for information on specific disabilities are agencies, organizations, and individuals with experience with the specific disability, and, when specific accommodations are needed, the individual with disability. Self-proclaimed experts without an established record can often lead to costly errors.

  • Resist trusting what you think you know about 'disabilities'. Folklore and common misconceptions are often assumed to be fact.

  • Think creatively about solutions while not adversely compromising the essential quality of services being delivered or the dignity of the person receiving the accommodation.

Steps to take

  • Identify the primary barriers to full inclusion of individuals with disabilities (e.g., attitudinal, structural, informational, technical, and staffing patterns).

  • Identify methods for making accommodations (i.e., physical modifications, information in accessible format, or time management changes).

  • Consult with knowledgeable individuals with disabilities, consumer organizations of individuals with disabilities, or experts who have recognized expertise with and knowledge of regulations, resources, and pragmatic accommodation strategies.

  • Determine the feasibility of accommodations being considered (i.e., cost, disruption to service delivery, and effectiveness).

  • Develop a plan for implementing accommodations (i.e. structural changes, technology purchases, disability awareness training, and staff assignments).

  • Establish evaluation of effectiveness of inclusion plan as part of regular program and systems evaluation.


The Committee on Disability Issues in Psychology (CDIP) is a working committee consisting of six APA members appointed for 3-year terms. The committee, under the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) and housed in the Public Interest Directorate, is charged with the responsibility of advising APA governance and otherwise representing psychology concerning disability issues in the field. APA staff assigned to the committee and committee members are available as experienced resources by calling (202) 336-6038.

Additional Information on the ADA

General Office of the ADA
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66118
Washington, DC 20035-6118
(202) 514-0301, (202) 514-0381 (TDD)
(202) 514-0383

Construction and Alterations
Architectural and Transportation Barriers
Compliance Board
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
(800) USA-ABLE (Voice/TDD)

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
1801 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20507
(800) 669-3362, (800) 872-3362 (TDD)