An Overview on Disability Law

Common areas of legal protection

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on March 1, 2023

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Federal and state laws protect people who have disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” A person with disabilities is someone who has a “history or record of such an impairment,” and the law also protects individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment.

If you believe you have been treated in an unlawful way because of your disability, you may be considering filing a lawsuit. The following is a brief overview of common areas of protection that you can use to evaluate your situation. If you decide to speak with a lawyer, you can use this as a foundation to feel confident.


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was passed to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights as people without disabilities. It prevents discrimination on the basis of disability in everyday life, including employment, access to stores, and transportation.

Other federal laws and state disability rights laws protect people with disabilities when they want to access housing or education. A number of federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are involved in enforcing antidiscrimination and civil rights laws.


Employers with 15 or more employees are required to follow the ADA’s requirements against employment discrimination.

The protections offered by the ADA are effective before the employment relationship begins, so employers are prohibited from recruiting and hiring in discriminatory ways. This means that the employer cannot ask certain questions about a candidate’s disability status until an offer has been extended.

During the course of the employment relationship, the employer must provide reasonable accommodations so that the employee can perform the necessary work—which can include things like special work schedules and additional equipment.

Public Accommodations

Title III of the the ADA requires that private entities that own or lease a place of public accommodation make their accommodations available to persons with disabilities.  Common public accommodations include restaurants, hotels, theatres, stores, and commercial facilities.

There cannot be any exclusion, segregation or unequal treatment of people with disabilities, and the ADA further requires certain architectural standards to make public accommodations accessible—ramps being a common example. Finally, in some situations, accommodations may be required to modify procedures for people with disabilities.

Local and State Governments

Title II of the ADA requires state and local governments to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from their public services, including public education programs, government employment, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings. Reports of Title II violations by public entities can be filed with the U.S. Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of disability discrimination.


The ADA applies to public transportation services, including buses and rail transit systems. These systems cannot discriminate against people based on disability, and they must make a good faith effort to purchase or lease vehicles that are accessible. Unless it would create an undue burden, systems must provide a paratransit system—which pick up and drop off people who are unable to use traditional public  transportation at their destinations.


Title IV of the ADA mandates television and telephone common carriers to provide constant telecommunications relay services (TRS) for individuals with hearing or speech disabilities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum requirements for TRS devices, such as teletypewriters (TTY) or telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD).

Fair Housing Act

Under the Fair Housing Act, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of a disability. This Act applies to both renting and buying. Housing cannot be denied to a person because of their disability.

Landlords must also allow people to make access-related modifications to their living space. The landlord will not be required to pay for these modifications, but they must allow them under the act. Landlords may also be required to make reasonable exceptions to policies. For example, blind tenants may be permitted to have a service dog even when there is a no pet policy.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) applies to public schools. These schools must make “free and appropriate” education available to students with disabilities. This includes providing the least restrictive environment possible for the student to learn in, and schools might be required to provide aides or adhere to an education plan.

Common Questions for an Attorney

Below are some common questions you might want to consider when meeting with an attorney for the first time.

  1. What are disability benefits?
  2. Can I work while receiving disability benefits?
  3. How do I know if I was discriminated against because of my disability?
  4. Is my disability covered by the ADA?
  5. What can an employer ask about my disability?

Finding the Right Attorney for Your Needs

It is important to approach the right type of attorney—someone who can help you through your entire case. To do so, you can visit the Super Lawyers directory, and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location.

To help you get started, you may want to consider looking for a lawyer who practices disability law.

Why Should I Talk to a Lawyer?

State and federal laws may not protect the same disabilities, which can lead to questions of whether you are protected and what law you should bring your case under. An experienced attorney will be able to help you evaluate your case and determine the appropriate law. They will also interview witnesses, including employers or landlords who may have discriminated against you.

A lawyer will be able to anticipate potential problems with your case and advise you on how to approach them, as well as keep track of deadlines and file all the paperwork with the necessary courts and agencies—giving you one less thing to worry about.

What do I do next?

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