from the Florida Bar Association

More than 43 million Americans have physical and mental disabilities. For many people with disabilities, everyday activities such as working, using public transportation, and accessing stores, restaurants and public facilities can present difficulties.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act or "ADA" was enacted to give equal opportunity to people with disabilities and protect them from discrimination. Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who is regarded as having such an impairment, or has a history of such an impairment. A broad range of disabilities are covered including epilepsy, retardation, AIDS, and learning disabilities. The ADA does not cover illegal drug users, nor does it require special treatment for alcoholics. Florida has additional civil rights laws that also protect the rights of the handicapped, disabled, and those infected with the HIV virus. You may call the Florida Commission on Human Relations at 1-800-342- 8170 for further information.

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against qualified people with disabilities in employment, public services, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications services. The law applies to all employers of 15 or more workers and all places of public accommodation and services. It requires nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation of people with disabilities.

The ADA prohibits discrimination in all employment practices including job application procedure, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment. The law applies to job recruitment, advertising, lay-offs, fringe benefits, and other employment- related activities. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to the mental or physical limitations of an individual with a disability unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. A "reasonable accommodation" is a modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that will allow a qualified and disabled person to perform job functions. Several factors are considered in determining whether an undue hardship exists, including: the cost of the accommodation, the financial resources of the facility, and the size of the employer.

The enforcement provisions of the ADA closely parallel the enforcement provisions for other types of illegal discrimination. Remedies include back pay, front pay, lost fringe benefits, reimbursement, prejudgment interest, costs and reasonable attorneys' fees. Under recent civil rights statutory enactments, punitive damages are possible, as well as damages for emotional distress.

If you believe that you have been the victim of a discriminatory act prohibited by the ADA, or would like technical assistance on the ADA, you should contact the appropriate government agency.

For employment discrimination, call the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "EEOC"; at 800-669-EEOC.

The Department of Transportation is responsible for enforcement of ADA transportation provisions. Call them at 202-366-9305. The number for TDD users is 202-755-7687.

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for enforcement of the ADA communications provisions. Their telephone number is 202-632-7260, and 202-632-6999 for TDD.

For enforcement of the ADA regarding public services and public accommodations, call the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 202 514-0301, or 202 514-0383 for TDD.

Florida has additional civil rights laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities, and a specific law covering people infected with the HIV virus. You may call the Florida Commission on Human Relations at 800-342-8170 for further information on Florida law.

If you need legal advice, call your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, call The Florida Bar Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-342-8011 or the local lawyer referral service or legal aid office listed in the yellow pages of your telephone book.

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