Legal Considerations:

Public Accommodations' Obligations under ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act -
Requirements for Public Accommodations

Fact Sheet by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Coordination and Review Section


Public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, doctors' offices, pharmacies, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, private schools, and day care centers, may not discrimination the basis of disability. Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt.

Reasonable changes in policies, practices, and procedures must be made to avoid discrimination.

Auxiliary Aids

Auxiliary aids and services must be provided to individuals with vision or hearing impairments or other individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would result.

Physical Barriers

Physical barriers in existing facilities must be removed, if removal is readily achievable. If not, alternative methods of providing the services must be offered, if they are readily achievable.

All new construction in public accommodations, as well as in "commercial facilities" such as office buildings, must be accessible. Elevators are generally not required in buildings under three stories or with fewer than 3000 square feet per floor, unless the building is a shopping center, mall or a professional office of a health care provider.

Alterations must be accessible. When alterations to primary function areas are made, an accessible path of travel to the altered area (and the bathrooms, telephones, and drinking fountains serving that area) must be provided to the extent that the added accessibility costs are not disproportionate to the overall cost of the alterations. Elevators are required as described above.

Entities such as hotels that also offer transportation must generally provide equivalent transportation service to individuals with disabilities. New fixed-route vehicles capable of carrying more than 16 passengers must be accessible.


Individuals may bring private lawsuits to obtain court orders to stop discrimination, but money damages cannot be awarded.

Individuals can also file complaints with the Attorney General who may file lawsuits to stop discrimination and obtain money damages and penalties.

For more information on the ADA contact:

U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Coordination and Review Section P.O. Box 66118 Washington, D.C. 20035-6118 (202) 514-0301 Voice (202) 514-0381 TTY (202) 514-0383 TTY

A public accommodation may not impose a surcharge on a particular individual with a disability or any group of individuals with disabilities to cover the costs of measures, such as the provision of auxiliary aids, barrier removal...and reasonable modifications...that are required to provide that individual or group with the nondiscriminatory treatment required by the Act or this part.

28 C.F.R. 36.301 (c).

Definition of Qualified Interpreter:

The Justice Department regulation defines a "qualified interpreter" as follows:

Qualified interpreter means an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.

Definition of Effective Communication:

Places of public accommodation must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For deaf and hard-of-hearing people, the means that they must remove barriers to communication. Service providers must make sure that they can communicate effectively with their deaf clients by providing "auxiliary aids and services" for these individuals:

(c) Effective communication. A public accommodation shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities.

28 C.F.R. 36.303.

Primary Consideration and Expressed Choice:

"A critical determination is what constitutes an effective auxiliary aid or service. The Department's proposed rule recommended that, in determining what auxiliary aid to use, the public accommodation consult with an individual before providing him or her with a particular auxiliary aid or service. This suggestion sparked a significant volume of public comment. Many persons with disabilities, particularly persons who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, recommended that the rule should require that public accommodations give, "primary consideration" to the "expressed choice" of an individual with a disability. These commenters asserted that the proposed rule was inconsistent with congressional intent of the ADA, with the Department's proposed rule implementing Title II of the ADA, and with long-standing interpretations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act."

The definition of place of public accommodation incorporates the 12 categories of facilities represented in the statutory definition of public accommodation in Section 301 (7) of the ADA:

1. Places of lodging.
2. Establishments serving food or drink.
3. Places of exhibition or entertainment.
4. Places of public gathering.
5. Sales or rental establishments.
6. Service establishments.
7. Stations used for specified public transportation.
8. Places of public display or collection.
9. Places or recreation.
10.Places of education.
11.Social service center establishments.
12.Places of exercise or recreation.

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