Magazine article The National Public Accountant

The Americans with Disabilities Act; Its Impact on Small Business

Magazine article The National Public Accountant

The Americans with Disabilities Act; Its Impact on Small Business

Article excerpt


Its Impact on Small Business

On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The law mandates sweeping changes in the way American society accommodates its physically challenged. Because it will undoubtedly affect the way your clients do business, as a business adviser, you should become familiar with this law and its numerous ramifications.


There are approximately 43 million Americans with some form of recognized disability; however, only 26% of these individuals are employed on a full-time basis. More startling yet, only 13% of the nation's disabled women are engaged in full-time employment. By contrast, between 60% and 70% of this population indicates a desire for such work.

The problem historically has been one of employer attitude. The ADA is designed to foster changes in those attitudes without being unduly punitive toward employers. At the same time, the ADA's legislative history indicates that changing demographics militate in favor of the law.

By the year 2000, estimates indicate that demands for special professional services and management personnel will increase by 24% and 12% respectively. As society prepares to face these and other potential labor shortages, proponents of the ADA insist that preparing now to accommodate disabled workers makes good economic sense. Quite simply, then, the ADA seeks to integrate the country's disabled population into the mainstream of American life.

The Americans With Disabilities Act contains five sections, three of which are of significance to independent accountants and their clients. Title I regulates employment practices as they relate to disabled persons. Title II covers public services, notably public transportation. Title III sets standards for the accessibility of public accommodations to the physically challenged.

Who Is Protected?

Under the ADA, a disability is defined as: a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such impairment; or the perception of having such an impairment. The list is disjunctive. That is, any one of these three criteria will qualify as a disability.

The act further defines a physical or mental impairment as either:

1. Any physiological disorder or

condition, cosmetic

disfigurement or anatomical loss

affecting one or more of the

following body systems:

neurological, musculoskeletal,

special sense organs,

respiratory (including speech organs),

cardiovascular, reproductive,

digestive, genito-urinary,

hemic and lymphatic, skin

and endocrine, or, 2. Any mental or psychological

disorder, such as mental

retardation, organic brain

syndrome, emotional or mental

illness or specific learning


One of the more opaque terms of art in the ADA is the phrase "major life activities". Although the act itself is silent as to precise meaning of this term, the record of congressional hearings on the law indicates some examples of major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working or participating in community activities.

Congress waffled somewhat on the delicate issue of substance abuse. While past or current alcohol abuse is considered a disability under the ADA, past substance abuse apparently is considered a disability, while current abuse is specifically excluded from protection under the act.

Title V of the ADA specifically excludes certain conditions from the definition of a disability. Among these are transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania and pyromania. …

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