When Was The ADA Passed?

Mar 25th 2021

A Historic Day In America

If you're trying to find out about disability rights, law, or general information about how the ADA works, you may be asking the question, when was the ADA passed? After all, this is really when it began for individuals with disabilities. In this post we will discuss when it was signed into law, when the major revisions took place, and what it is all about. Let's start with a brief reflection of this landmark occasion.

It was the 26th of July in 1990, and a warm summer day at the White House. George H. W. Bush (Sr.) is the 41st President of the United States, and is accompanied by an eclectic crowd nearly 3,000 strong. Many are in wheelchairs or have artificial limbs. That's because these are people who live with disabilities, and others who support the cause. President Bush sits at a lovely wooden table on the lush, green lawn outside, where pictures are being taken. He gives a very impressive speech about equality and discrimination in America. This is the historical event of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, now commonly referred to as the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a federal civil rights law that primarily protects people with disabilities from being discriminated against, by making it a punishable crime to do so. Specifically, the civil rights legislation ensures equal rights and equal opportunities for physically and/or mentally disabled individuals, in the following areas:


  • Public accommodations
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • State and local government services
  • Telecommunications

What The ADA Stipulates

In addition to equal opportunity provided by design (simply by inclusion), the civil rights legislation also stipulates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations when necessary, for any employee with a qualifying disability.


The ADA also made history by establishing specifications for providing accessibility to people with disabilities to all public accommodations (businesses). Practically any business that has 15 or more full-time employees is considered a public accommodation, and thus mandated by federal law to meet ADA compliance regulations.

Recently it has been officially determined that business websites are indeed included in accessible design requirements as well, neatly and completely incorporating people with disabilities into the collective equality that is the general population.

ADA Revisions and Related Acts

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008

The ADAAA, or the Amendments Act of 2008, has been the newest major revision of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and was officially signed into law by our 43rd President, George W. Bush, on September 25th, 2008. This updated version more definitively clarifies and broadens the scope of the term "disability", which had been previously largely interpreted by the United States Supreme Court during a multitude of lawsuits. Specifically, this Amendments Act (also known as the ADAAA) was passed in order to overturn two court cases in particular, both of which had been based on these interpretations and remained highly controversial, therefore needing more concrete legal elaborations.

The 2010 Standards for Accessible Design

Of the main federal agencies with authority over the ADA, the Department of Justice is responsible for this amendment, publishing revised regulations for Title II and III of the ADA on September 15th, 2010. This was necessary to address specifications for ADA compliance, such as having accessible design in all new (and now covers old, as well) business construction. The details provided within this civil rights are now commonly known as: "the 2010 standards for accessible design". These standards contain detailed measurements and highly specific information on everything from the size of the lettering on ADA signage, to the angle of the slope for a wheelchair ramp.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

To understand how the ADA came into existence, we must also explore the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This Act made discrimination against people with disabilities based on sex, race, religion, national origin, and other characteristics a federal crime. This was a historical event of considerable magnitude, especially for its time.

The civil rights legislation was passed as a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement that had been growing and building since around the 1950s, when the African American people began to feel the weight of their unbearable oppression and the hopelessness of their plight, and thus began their epochal insurrection.

This Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2nd, 1964 after first being proposed by President John F. Kennedy in June of 1963, when it was opposed by a filibuster in the Senate. This civil rights law:

  • Prohibits unequal application of voter registration requirements
  • Bans racial segregation in schools and public accommodations (businesses)
  • Outlaws employment discrimination

The purpose was to end discrimination against minorities based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Later, sexual orientation and gender identity were added to the list.

The Rehabilitation Act

President Richard M. Nixon signed the landmark Rehabilitation Act into federal law on September 26th, 1973. It is the basis for the Americans with Disabilities Act, except it only covers federal agencies and federal funding issues. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 makes discrimination based on disability a crime, specifically for:
  • programs conducted by federal agencies
  • programs receiving federal financial aid or funding
  • federal employment
  • employment practices of federal contractors

ADA - Enforcing Government Agencies

In addition to the Department of Justice, who handles public accommodations and state and local government services, there are several other government agencies that take part in the enforcement of ADA regulations. Another major enforcing agency is the EEOC, or Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This agency provides civil rights protections against discrimination of job applicants, hired employees, fired employees, and job trainees that are people with disabilities. Employers covered under the ADA are broad, and include:
  • Private employers
  • State and local governments
  • Employment agencies
  • Labor unions
  • Any business that provides a public accommodation (service or product) with 15 or more full-time employees

The U.S. Department of Transportation is the authorized agency governing the enforcement of ADA regulations involving public transit. The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, is responsible for enforcing ADA laws relating to telecommunications services, which primarily concerns people with disabilities related to hearing and speech impairments. The FCC regulates telephone, television, and internet accessibility.

There are actually many more government agencies and departments that play a large role in the enforcement and regulations for the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they are all working together towards a common goal: a future that is accessible to everyone equally. 

To learn more check us out at ADA Central today! Also check out our article on what is compliance.