Disability Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Human Rights Law

Disability Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Human Rights Law


July 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark federal legislation that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all aspects of public life. Since the passage of the ADA, governments around the world have sanctioned similar laws that ensure people with disabilities have rights and accessibility to resources that support personal growth, independence, and expanded opportunities.

The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) enforces the New York State Human Rights Law. DHR protects New Yorkers against discrimination based on disability in employment, housing accommodations, nonreligious educational institutions, places of public accommodation, commercial spaces, and credit transactions. DHR takes legal action in response to complaints about discrimination, initiates investigations of individual and systemic cases of discrimination, and conducts outreach to communities throughout the State of New York.

The definition of “disability” under the NYSHRL has been broadly construed. The definition requires, in part, a physical, mental, or medical impairment which prevents the exercise of a normal bodily function. There are no qualifiers as to the severity of the disability.

On July 30, 2020, the Division hosted a virtual panel discussion that reflected on the thirty years of progress and challenges since the passage of the ADA. The program highlighted the legal protections for people with disabilities under the ADA as well as comparable sections of the New York State Human Rights Law, and how these laws apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. Video from the event will available on this page shortly.

Questions and Answers

We appreciate our audience’s questions and contributions during the Zoom session. The following responds to the questions that we did not have a chance to address live:

Where do you see the ADA decades from now? What issues will we be facing in the future?

As the panelists discussed, while many accomplishments have been realized for persons with disabilities there remains much to be done. This is especially for persons with “invisible disabilities” such as cognitive disabilities. There also remains much to be done to improve employment for persons with disabilities. The unemployment rate for persons with disabilities remains much higher than for persons without disabilities.

Have the legal standards that define disability evolved to match experience of persons with disabilities?

The New York State Human Rights Law definition of disability is a generous one and protects more individuals with disabilities then the federal law does.

How do I become involved in advocacy or get involved in volunteer work for civil rights?

The NYS Division of Human Rights has a volunteer and internship program. For more information on these programs you can visit: https://dhr.ny.gov/internship-opportunities. There are also Independent Living Centers (ILCs) located across New York State which are an excellent resource for persons with disabilities in their communities. For information regarding ILCs and their locations, please visit: https://ilny.us/.

Video from Presentation - 7/30/2020

A video commemorating 30 Years Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 

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Video: Commemorating 30 Years Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)