The Americans with Disabilities Act provides a single section of the law relating to the civil rights of those with disabilities. The primary aim of the act was to prevent discrimination against disabled people in many areas of their lives. In essence it was passed to enable Americans who have a disability to integrate fully in their day-to-day lives. The Disability Discrimination Act in 1995 built on the existing law.
It is a sad truth that many Americans who have physical or mental disabilities find themselves unable to participate in mainstream life – whether because of physical lack of access or an inability to overcome attitudes that preclude them from participation. That is why the ADA is so important – not just to those who are protected by it, but for all of us – so as to encourage and promote a fully integrated society for everyone to enjoy. If there is a situation in which state laws are stricter than the provisions in the ADA, the state laws will still apply.
People who are covered by the ADA are those who have a disability or who have a history of a disability. In addition, people who are discriminated against because of their relationship or connection with disabled people are also provided for (e.g. parents or carers), as well as people who are thought to have a disability by others (regardless of whether or not they do have a disability.)
There are also a number of groups of people who are excluded from the ADA, for example, current drug users, compulsive gamblers, kleptomaniacs and transsexuals.
An ADA Amendments Act of 2008, signed by the President in September 2008, restores protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act for a number of groups who suffer from disability, such as bipolar disorder, epilepsy, cancer and diabetes. Previously these groups of people had seen their protection diminished under the law as a result of a series of Supreme Court decisions. The new law ensures that these people's rights are restored and they are once again protected by the ADA as was initially intended.
If you or someone you know is being discriminated against on the grounds of their disability there are complaints procedures, which enable the US Department of Justice to take up your case on your behalf. However, this does not prevent you from filing your own suit in U.S. District Court. Your options will depend on the particular circumstances of your case.