Ask About the ADA

US Citizens in Foreign Universities

Q: I attend a college that is not based in the United States, but it has an office in New York. Are they required to follow the ADA and provide me with reasonable accommodations for school?

A: Colleges that are based and operate in countries other than the United States are not required to adhere to US laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, the office in New York would need to follow ADA guidelines in areas such as accessible design and effective communication.

Voluntary Disclosure of Disability

Q: I am a cancer patient in remission for Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia. I have recently been applying to jobs (post cancer diagnosis) and I am confused what I should be answering regarding the voluntary disclosure of a disability. Mostly, is my form of cancer (which could reoccur) considered as me having a history of a disability?

A: First, let's tackle the question of a history of a disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a person can have a record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. This means that the person may not be substantially limited now but has a record of that kind of condition. Having cancer which required extensive care management would certainly fit this criterion.

Now on the issue of disclosing a disability, that is absolutely voluntary. This means you need not discuss your cancer at all. This is not hiding information or lying to the perspective employer; it is your right not to disclose.

When applying for a job that you feel you are qualified for, you simply apply with the merits of your qualifications. After acceptance of a job, you still have no obligation to disclose any disability related information. You may need to disclose when and if you may need a reasonable accommodation as is provided under Title I of the ADA. At that point, an employer may ask for related medical documentation as you go through the interactive dialogue of a reasonable accommodation request process to verify your disability and the related need for an accommodation.

Food allergies and colleges and universities

Q: My son needs an accommodation from the college where he is applying, as he has food allergies and does not want to use their meal plan. The school says that the committee will not meet to see if they can approve the accommodations until we put down a non-refundable deposit. Can they do this?

A: Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a public accommodation cannot place a surcharge on people with disabilities to cover costs of accommodations. The school’s requirement of putting down a deposit before they approve or deny an accommodation could be seen as a surcharge and could potentially be a violation of the ADA.

Fitness for Duty Exams for College Students

Q: My daughter suspended her college enrollment due to medical reasons but is ready to re-enroll. The school is asking for a letter from her physician stating that she is fit to begin school again. Is this discrimination?

A: While mostly applicable to employment, fitness for duty exams or inquiries are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The college may apply a policy that looks to assure that students do not present a safety risk to themselves or others. The school must also weigh if a reasonable modification may reduce this risk. However, the policy cannot be used to single out specific groups or individuals.

Federal Contractors and Self-Disclosure of a Disability

Q: I am applying for a job with a company that is a federal contractor. The application asks if I want to self-identify as having a disability. Is this illegal?

A: Federal contractors and subcontractors that are covered by the affirmative action requirements of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 may invite individuals with disabilities to identify themselves on a job application form, or by some other pre-employment inquiry, to satisfy the affirmative action requirements. Employers who request this information must observe Section 503 requirements regarding the manner in which they request and use such information. They must also follow the requirements for maintaining the information in a separate, confidential record, apart from regular personnel records.

It is important to know that self-identifying as a person with a disability in this instance is voluntary. There is no mandate that you must disclose your disability in response to this question.

ADA and Product Certifications

Q: My company produces grab bars according to the design criteria set out in the ADA design standards. A customer, a shipyard in Europe, now asks for stamped certification that our grab bars are ADA compliant. Are there offices that offer ADA certifications?

A: No, there are no Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “certification” offices. The ADA standards for accessible design address grab bar design, dimensions, and placement and heights, but does not provide a process for certifying individual products.

Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

Q: I am a concert organizer. A ticket holder has asked to bring their golf cart to the outdoor event as they use it as a mobility aid. Do I have to allow the use of golf carts?

A: People with disabilities may use a variety of devices as mobility aids according to what best meets their needs. While many people are familiar with individuals using a wheelchair or scooter, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does permit the use of other power-driven mobility devices (OPMDs). Golf carts and Segways® or other mobility devices may be included as an OPMD. Public accommodations under Title III or public entities under Title II of the ADA may need to allow the use of a device for a person with a mobility disability even if the same device would be prohibited for someone without a disability.

You as the public accommodation have the right to assess if the device cannot be accommodated due to legitimate safety concerns. This must be based on actual risks and must not be speculative.  In their fact sheet, ADA Requirements: Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids, and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices, The Department of Justice (DOJ) provides the following risk assessment factors to consider:

  • the type, size, weight, dimensions, and speed of the device;
  • the facility's volume of pedestrian traffic (which may vary at different times of the day, week, month, or year);
  • the facility's design and operational characteristics (e.g., whether its business is conducted indoors or outdoors, its square footage, the density and placement of furniture and other stationary devices, and the availability of storage for the OPDMD if needed and requested by the user);
  • whether legitimate safety requirements (such as limiting speed to the pace of pedestrian traffic or prohibiting use on escalators) can be established to permit the safe operation of the OPDMD in the specific facility; and
  • whether the use of the OPDMD creates a substantial risk of serious harm to the immediate environment or natural or cultural resources, or poses a conflict with Federal land management laws and regulations.

You can learn more by reading the fact sheet, Wheelchairs and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices.

So, in your case with an outdoor concert, it may be difficult to accommodate a golf cart depending on the layout of the physical space and size of the crowd in the venue. However, if you cannot accommodate a golf cart, you must consider if there is either another OPMD that you could permit or if you could provide some other means of access to the concert.

Service Animals on Airplanes

Q: Recently the Department of Transportation (DOT) changed the rules for service animals and emotional support animals on airplanes. Why was this done?

A: The DOT made these changes to avoid problems with animals on airplanes. Some passengers were bringing exotic animals on board as emotional support animals. Also, in some cases, passengers were attacked by aggressive, untrained dogs. The Service Animal Final Rule under the Air Carrier Access Act no longer recognizes emotional support animals as service animals and provides that service animal handlers attest that their animals have been adequately trained. The announcement of the final ruling was issued in December of 2020.

Accommodations and Job Training

Q: I am a vocational counselor. I referred a customer for training, but the training provider would not accept the customer because he is dyslexic, and they did not have the dedicated staff available to assist him with all the reading material necessary to successfully complete the training and exam. Have they violated the ADA?

A: That is a difficult call. The training agency is responsible for providing effective communication and auxiliary aids and services to facilitate that communication. Certainly, one solution would have been to have a qualified reader for any materials that were expected to be read during the training and exam.

However, alternative options should have been considered. For example, the training organization could have provided pre-recorded materials as an alternative to an in-person qualified reader. Or if the reading and exam was in an electronic format, they could have offered the materials in an accessible electronic format combined with the use of a computer with built-in assistive technology, such as Narrator screen reader on a Windows PC, or a free downloadable product, such as NVDA (nonvisual desktop access).

Even though the training organization said that they could not provide a qualified reader for all the course time, they are still responsible for investigating other solutions. They still have an obligation to find an effective communication alternative as long as it would not cause an undue burden.

Temporary Events and Communication

Q: I am organizing an outdoor concert and was told that our medical tent would have to have a sign language interpreter there at all times. There will be interpreters at the event, but do I have to assign one to the medical tent?

A: In general no. Much like a doctor’s office or an emergency room, interpreters are not typically present on staff. That being said, the medical tent still must provide effective communication by other means if an interpreter is not present. Depending on a given situation, interpreters should be brought in from other areas of the event when requested or necessary. 

You can read more about effective communication in this article on NortheastADA.org.

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