Civil Rights

Epilepsy Foundation » Advocacy » Civil Rights » Americans with Disabilities Act: An Overview 

Americans with Disabilities Act: An Overview

The Americans with Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336, prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, activities of state and local governments, public and private transportation, public accommodations and telecommunications. The purpose of the law is to provide uniform protection against discrimination throughout the United States.

Many of the ADA's provisions are borrowed from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by any entity that receives federal funding. Thus, Section 504 applies to institutions of higher learning, medical facilities, public schools and state and local programs that are funded by the federal government.

State Laws Stay in Force

Prior to enactment of the ADA, several states and localities passed statutes and ordinances which bar discrimination on the basis of disability.

The ADA does not invalidate or limit the rights or remedies provided by any state or local law that provides greater protection than the Act. For example, some states require that employers with only five employees comply with non-discrimination prohibitions. Under the ADA, however, only private employers with more than fifteen employees are covered. Nevertheless, the state law still remains in full force -- it is not superseded by the federal statute.

How the Act is Implemented

Congress has given several federal agencies responsibility to implement the Act. All were required to have published final regulations by July 26, 1991. In addition, all agencies with implementation responsibilities were required to publish "Technical Assistance Manuals" by January 26, 1992. These documents are intended to be used by entities with compliance responsibilities as well as individuals with rights under the law and their advocates.

ADA and Employment

The ADA's employment provisions (incorporated in Title I of the Act) are extremely important to persons with epilepsy and their families, due to the breadth of employment discrimination against persons with seizure disorders. However, other sections of the law will also enhance the ability of persons with epilepsy to live independently in their communities, and provide remedies for discriminatory treatment should it occur.

State and local government activities

Title II of the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by any state or local government or their agencies.

Covered entities include, for example, police and fire departments, state legislatures, city councils, state courts, public schools, public recreation departments, and departments of motor vehicle licensing.

Access to Activities

All covered entities must allow persons with disabilities to participate in all their services, programs and activities. For example, a city may not refuse to allow children with seizure disorders to enroll in its recreation programs. In addition, all programs must be provided in an integrated setting (i.e., with individuals who do not have disabilities) unless separate measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity. Therefore, a child with a seizure disorder must be allowed to participate in the regular city recreation program even if the city provides separate recreational programs for children with disabilities, including those with seizure disorders.

Effect on Law Enforcement

All law enforcement officials employed by a state or local government agency must adhere to principles of non-discrimination in carrying out their duties. Therefore, it may be a violation of the ADA if a police officer arrests a person having a complex partial seizure because the officer thought the individual was drunk.

Public accommodations

Title III of the ADA covers any private entity that makes its goods and services available to the public. Examples of public accommodations include stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels, stadiums, auditoriums, museums, gas stations, amusement parks, health spas, barber shops, funeral parlors, child care providers, professional office buildings and providers of social services such as senior citizen centers, food banks and adoption agencies.

Access to Public Activities

Public accommodations cannot exclude or refuse to serve persons with disabilities. Therefore, a bowling alley cannot refuse to allow a person with a seizure disorder to use the facility because of fear that the individual may hurt himself or herself during a seizure. Similarly, child care centers cannot have blanket policies which exclude children with epilepsy or any other disability.

Modifications Needed

A public accommodation must modify any criteria for receipt of its services that discriminates on the basis of disability. For example, a store that only accepts a valid driver's license as identification for credit is discriminating against persons with seizure disorders who cannot drive. The store must modify its criteria and accept another type of identification.


The ADA covers both public (fixed-route) and private transit. Buses, light and rapid rail, ferries, and AMTRAK are covered, as well as private tour and charter companies, hotel shuttles, Greyhound and other private over-the-road companies. All must adhere to general non-discrimination principles.

Access to Transportation

Thus, a local transit authority cannot refuse to allow a person with epilepsy to use the subway system. In addition, the ADA requires that comparable paratransit (door-to-door service) be provided to those individuals who because of their disability cannot use regular fixed route service.

Special Services

Some persons with epilepsy -- such as individuals who have uncontrolled convulsive tonic-clonic seizures -- may be eligible for this service if they can demonstrate that they cannot ride fixed route buses without endangering themselves. If providing comparable para-transit service creates an undue financial burden, an entity may request a waiver. Sec. 37.155, 56 Fed. Reg. 173, p. 45639.


Title IV of the Act requires, to the extent possible, telecommunication relay services be provided which make it possible for an individual who has a hearing or speech impairment to communicate through a telecommunications device for deaf persons (TDD or Tex-Tel) with an individual who can hear.