Your Legal Disability Rights

Know your rights under federal law. Read about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects people’s rights regarding employment, public accommodations, state and local government services, and more. Learn about special accommodations for travelers and voters. Know how to fight job discrimination.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal legislation that protects civil rights and guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in:

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

The Department of Justice Disability Rights Section provides information about the federal guidelines established in the ADA through a toll-free information line: 1-800-514-0301 (TTY: 1-800-514-0383). This service permits businesses, state and local governments, and individuals to ask questions about general or specific ADA requirements and regulations, including questions about the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Find more ADA resources from the government:

How to File a Complaint

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits disability discrimination in places of public accommodation, such as hotels, restaurants, and certain places of entertainment.

If you feel that an entity covered by Title III discriminated against you or another person because of a disability, you can file an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) complaint.  

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Traveling with a Disability

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities when traveling, and gives guidelines for accessibility and special accommodations. Learn more about the ADA and how to file a complaint.

Travel by Air

Travel by Rail

Travel by Bus and Local Transit

Other Travel

  • If you’re planning a cruise, tips from Cruise Vacations: Know Before You Go from the Federal Maritime Commission can help you make your accommodation needs known before your trip.

For international travel, the Department of State recommends you check the laws and standards of your destination country to find out about disability accommodations abroad.

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Voter Accessibility Laws

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), and other federal laws require that all Americans—including seniors and people with disabilities—have the same opportunity to participate in the voting process.

As a voter with a disability, you have the right to:

  • Vote privately and independently

  • Have an accessible polling place with voting machines for voters with disabilities

Specific requirements for physical accessibility of polling places include:

  • Wheelchair-accessible voting booths

  • Entrances and doorways that are at least 32 inches wide

  • Handrails on all stairs

  • Voting equipment that is accessible to voters who are blind or visually impaired

If you have a disability, you may either:

  • Seek assistance from workers at the polling place who have been trained to use the accessible voting machine, or

  • Bring someone to help you vote.

You can also ask your local election officials to tell you about other options available to you.

  • Some states offer “curbside voting,” in which a poll worker brings all voting materials to your car.

  • Some locations set up mobile polling places at long-term care facilities.

  • Local organizations often support people with disabilities by providing transportation to the polls and identifying the accessibility of polling places.

  • Many states offer absentee voting, so you can receive and return your absentee ballot through the mail.

Language Accessibility

The Election Assistance Commission (EAC) helps people overcome language barriers to voting.

Federal law also allows you to bring another person to help you vote if you are unable to read or write.

For more information:

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Discrimination and Harassment at Your Job

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. These laws protect employees and job applicants against:

  • Discrimination, harassment, and unfair treatment by managers, co-workers, or others in the workplace because of race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, transgender status, and sexual orientation), pregnancy, national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information

  • Denial of a reasonable workplace accommodation for disability or religious beliefs

  • Retaliation because they complained about job discrimination, or helped with a job discrimination investigation or lawsuit

Not All Employers Are Subject to EEOC Laws

An employer must have a certain number of employees to be covered by EEOC-enforced laws. This number varies depending on the type of employer (such as business or government agency) and the kind of discrimination alleged (such as race or age).

  • Businesses and state and local governments must have at least 15 employees for EEOC involvement in most types of discrimination complaints.

  • For age discrimination complaints:

    • Businesses must have at least 20 employees.

    • State and local governments have no minimum number of employees.

  • Federal agencies are covered by EEOC laws for all types of discrimination no matter how many employees they have.

Filing a Charge with the EEOC

If you are being harassed or discriminated against, you can file a charge with the EEOC. You have 180 days from the date of the event to file a complaint. In some situations, this deadline may be extended.

Federal employees and job applicants have a different complaint process.

Filing a Complaint with State or Local Government or with a Tribal Employment Rights Office

Most states and many local governments have their own anti-discrimination laws and their own agencies that enforce them. These laws may offer protections beyond EEOC-enforced laws.

Some state laws:

  • Apply to businesses with only five or six employees

  • Protect people from discrimination because they’re married or unmarried or have children

  • Have different deadlines for filing a charge or different standards for deciding whether you’re covered by them

To find state and local agencies and tribal employment rights offices:

  1. Find the EEOC field office that has jurisdiction over your area.

  2. Select “State and Local Agencies” from the office information list in the box on the left.

Many states have more protections for nursing mothers than what federal law requires. When they do, these laws are enforced by state labor offices.

Filing a Lawsuit

Victims of discrimination or harassment can file a lawsuit. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against under federal law, you must first file a charge with the EEOC, except for cases involving unequal pay between men and women.

You may decide to sue if the EEOC can’t help you with your complaint. In either case, look for an attorney who specializes in employment law. You can check with:

Laws that the EEOC Enforces

Federal employment discrimination laws include:

Harassment

Harassment is unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, pregnancy, disability, or genetic information.

It can include:

  • Offensive jokes

  • Physical assaults or threats

  • Ridicule or insults

  • Display of offensive objects or pictures

Sexual harassment may include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature

  • Offensive remarks about a person's sex—for example, offensive remarks about women in general

Harassment becomes illegal when:

  • It creates a hostile or abusive work environment

  • Refusing to put up with it results in the victim being fired or demoted

Protection from Retaliation

Equal Employment Opportunity laws prohibit retaliation against employees and job applicants who take action against discrimination or harassment at the workplace. For example, it’s unlawful to punish people for:

  • Filing or being a witness in an EEO charge or investigation

  • Communicating with a supervisor or manager about job discrimination or harassment

  • Refusing to follow orders that would result in discrimination

  • Resisting sexual advances, or intervening to protect others

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Education Rights of People with Disabilities

Educational Rights Laws

Several federal laws establish and protect the education rights of people with disabilities.

Disability Discrimination in Education

  • If you feel you or your child have been discriminated against at school, file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

  • You can also complain closer to home. Most education policy is made at the state or local level. Your school district or state is often the best place to start if you have questions or concerns about a policy or issue or feel your child’s educational rights have been violated.

    • Select your state to find contact information for its department of education, higher education agency, special education agency, and adult education agency.

  • The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights offers an online pamphlet on the rights and responsibilities of students with a disability who are preparing for postsecondary education. It explains how schools must provide certain tools to students to avoid discrimination based on disability. Students must notify schools and document their needs. Schools must offer academic adjustments or modifications to help students participate in the classroom. For example, a school may offer course reading material in alternative text such as Braille.

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Last Updated: July 05, 2018