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Glossary of Terms

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  • Access Board – Federal agency that develops and maintains design requirements for the built environment, transportation vehicles, telecommunications equipment, and information technology.
  • Accessible information technology – Technology that can be used by people with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. It incorporates the principles of universal design, whereby each user is able to interact with the technology in ways that work best for him or her.
  • Adaptive technology – Name for products which help people who cannot use regular versions of products, primarily people with physical disabilities such as limitations to vision, hearing, and mobility. See also: Assistive Technology (AT).
  • Additional requirements – These are requirements that may not be imposed on people with disabilities if are not imposed on other people.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – means that the resolution is outside of the traditional legal setting; includes mediation and arbitration.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) – The dominant sign language of the Deaf community in the United States and in the English-speaking parts of Canada.
  • American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) – Usually pronounced as [ask-e], this term for character encoding is based on the English alphabet. ASCII codes represent text in computers, communications equipment, including assistive technology (AT) such as screen readers and telephone relay service (TRS) equipment.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) – Guidelines drafted by the Access Board that describe the minimum requirements that a building should exhibit in order to be accessible.
  • Amicus brief – Commonly known as a “friend of the court” brief. An amicus brief provides individuals or organizations (such as government agencies or disability organizations) without a direct stake in the lawsuit to provide information or legal arguments to the court.
  • Appeal – A request that a higher court review the decision of a lower court. Either the plaintiff or the defendant in a case can appeal the ruling of a lower court.
  • Appellant – The party that files an appeal. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can be an appellant.
  • Arbitration – When a third party holds a formal meeting with both sides in a dispute to promote resolution of a grievance, a compromise, or a settlement of a lawsuit. The result of the arbitration may be binding on the parties. An arbitrator is usually court-appointed or chosen by the parties. Some union collective bargaining agreements require mandatory arbitration of employment grievances.
  • Architectural barriers – Obstacles or other features in the built environment that impede individuals with disabilities from gaining full and complete access to the goods and services being provided.
  • Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA) – Addresses scoping and technical requirements for accessibility to sites, facilities, buildings, and elements by individuals with disabilities.
  • Assistive technology (AT) – Any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Examples include message boards, screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, keyboard and mouse modifications, and head pointers.
  • Association – An entity may not discriminate against individuals or entities because of their relationship with a person with a disability.
  • Auxiliary aids and services – Examples include:
    • Qualified interpreters or other effective methods of making aurally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments;
    • Qualified readers, taped texts, or other effective methods of making visually delivered materials available to individuals with visual impairments;
    • Acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; and
    • Other similar services and actions.


  • Cert – An abbreviation that is sometimes used for the process by the Supreme Court known as certiorari.
  • Certiorari: The Supreme Court decides which cases to take through a process known as certiorari, sometimes abbreviated as “cert”. The Justices of the Court review every case appealed to the Supreme Court. If four or more Justices decide that the Supreme Court should issue an opinion on the case, the Supreme Court issues a writ of certiorari, or “grants cert”. If the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, it “denies cert”. If the Supreme Court grants certiorari, the Justices will hear oral argument and issue a decision. If the Supreme Court denies certiorari, the opinion of the circuit court stands.
  • Certification of equivalency – A final certification that a State or local building code meets or exceeds the minimum requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III for accessibility and usability of facilities covered by that Title.
  • Class action – A lawsuit brought on behalf of a large number of people with similar legal claims. For example, a lawsuit brought against a paratransit provider on behalf of all riders would be a class action lawsuit.
  • Collateral estoppel – In certain circumstances, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plaintiffs may experience difficulty if they have applied for Social Security benefits, long-term disability benefits, or made other formal statements about their level of disability. In some ADA employment cases, courts have ruled that a person could not claim that they were a “qualified person with a disability” if they received Social Security disability benefits. Courts ruled that if a person stated on a benefits application that they were permanently and totally disabled, they could not argue (they were “collaterally estopped” from arguing) that they were “qualified” to perform their job. The Supreme Court, in the case of Cleveland v. Policy Management, ruled that, under certain circumstances, a plaintiff could argue that she met the Social Security definition of disability and was still a “qualified” employee under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A plaintiff has to introduce evidence that their statement on a benefits application is consistent with an argument that they are qualified to perform their job.
  • Commercial facilities – Nonresidential facilities, including office buildings, factories, and warehouses, whose operations affect commerce.
  • Concurring opinion – A judge on a panel may issue a concurring opinion that agrees with the opinion of the court. A concurring opinion agrees with the court’s opinion on certain points but may differ in terms of reasoning or analysis.
  • Consent decree – A formal settlement agreement between parties that is subject to judicial approval and supervision. A consent decree has the force of law.
  • Court decision – If a case involves the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) case where the Department of Justice (DOJ) is a party or has submitted an amicus brief goes to trial or is appealed, a court may issue a decision on the merits of the case. These court decisions have the force of law.
  • Courts of appeal (circuit courts) – There are twelve regional courts of appeals. Each court of appeals covers a “circuit” of states, and they are generally referred to as “circuit courts.” The circuit courts hear appeals of decisions from the district courts. Decisions made by circuit courts can be used as precedent for all courts within that circuit.

Over time, the different circuit courts have developed individual reputations. The Fourth Circuit Court and Fifth Circuit Court are generally considered to be the most conservative circuits. The First Circuit Court and Ninth Circuit Court are generally considered to be more liberal.

Circuit courts generally have anywhere from ten to fifteen judges, more or less (depending on vacancies, etc.). Three-judge panels hear most cases at the circuit court level. Occasionally, a party may ask for all the circuit court judges to review a decision of a panel. If the circuit court agrees, it issues what is called an en banc ruling, with all the judges on the court participating.

The twelve circuit courts are listed below with the city where each court is located (in parenthesis) followed by the states that the court covers:

  • First Circuit Court (Boston) – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island.
  • Second Circuit Court (New York) – Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Vermont.
  • Third Circuit Court (Philadelphia) – Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey.
  • Fourth Circuit Court (Richmond) – Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia.
  • Fifth Circuit Court (New Orleans) – Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas.
  • Sixth Circuit Court (Cincinnati) – Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee.
  • Seventh Circuit Court (Chicago) – Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin.
  • Eighth Circuit Court (St. Louis) – Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota.
  • Ninth Circuit Court (San Francisco) – Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington.
  • Tenth Circuit Court (Denver) – Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming.
  • Eleventh Circuit Court (Atlanta) – Alabama, Florida, Georgia.
  • District of Columbia Circuit Court (Washington) – District of Columbia.

For more information and links to the different circuit courts: Federal Courts Locator | Federal Courts Websites.


  • Damages – Money awarded to one party based on injury or discrimination caused by the other. Money damages are not available to state employees under Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I or to all plaintiffs under ADA Title III.
  • Defendant – The person, company, or organization that is defending a lawsuit brought by a plaintiff. In Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I litigation, the defendant is almost always an employer. In ADA Title II litigation, the defendant is a unit of state government. In ADA Title III litigation, the defendant is almost always a place of public accommodation.
  • Defenses – Circumstances, specific to each Title of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), under which the general nondiscrimination requirements do not apply.
  • Definition of disability – The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a person with a “disability” as someone who has an impairment that causes a substantial limitation in a major life activity, or is regarded as having a disability, or has a record of a past disability. In many cases where an ADA plaintiff has a nontraditional or “hidden” disability (such as a back injury), the defendant will argue that the plaintiff does not meet the ADA definition of disability. If the plaintiff cannot prove that he or she has an actual disability, a court will grant summary judgment to the defendant, and the plaintiff loses his or her case.
  • De novo – From the Latin word for “new.” When an appeals court hears a case de novo, it looks at the record as if for the first time and applies the same standards that the lower court used.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – Federal agency designated to enforce the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
  • Department of the Interior (DOI) – Federal agency whose Civil Rights Division handles Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Department of Justice (DOJ) – Federal agency that has the authority to enforce all provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but focuses primarily on ADA Title II (public services by State and local government) and ADA Title III (public accommodations).
  • Department of Labor (DOL) – Federal agency responsible for administering and enforcing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
  • Department of Transportation (DOT) – Federal agency which, in cooperation with the U.S. Access Board, develops standards for transportation vehicles, including over-the-road buses, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Direct threat – Significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation (as defined in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • Disability – A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.
  • Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers (DBTACs) – Former name for the ten regional centers on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the ADA National Network funded by National Institute on Disability Rehabilitation and Research (NIDRR) to provide information, training and technical assistance on the ADA in all 50 U.S. States and surrounding territories.
  • Dissenting opinion – A judge on a panel may issue a dissenting opinion that disagrees with the opinion of the court. A dissenting opinion disagrees with the court’s opinion and may present different reasoning or analysis. (An opinion may be both concurring and dissenting; agreeing with certain sections of a court’s opinion but disagreeing with others.)
  • Distance learning – Training from a remote location conducted by way of various options, including teleconference, streaming audio over the Internet, and/or real-time captioned over the Internet.
  • District courts – Every state has at least one district court. District courts are the lowest level of the federal court system. Virtually all federal cases arise in the federal district courts. Decisions made by district courts can be used as precedent in other courts in that state.


  • Effective communication – Communication with people with disabilities must be as effective as communication with others.
  • Electronic & Information Technology (E & IT) – Section 508 was originally added as an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, in 1986. The original section 508 dealt with electronic and information technologies, in recognition of the growth of this field.
  • Employee – An individual employed by an employer.
  • Employer (Private) – A person engaged in an industry affecting commerce that has 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such person.
  • Employer (Public) – All public entities {i.e., state or local government}, regardless of the size of the workforce, are prohibited from discriminating in their employment practices against qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • Equal Opportunity – An opportunity for people with disabilities to participate and benefit from programs and services that is equal to and as effective as the opportunity provided to others.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – Federal agency primarily responsible for enforcement of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which deals with employment discrimination.
  • Error – An appeals court can only reverse the decision of a lower court if it finds that the lower court judge made an error. An appeals course will reverse an error that is prejudicial to a party but will generally not reverse a “harmless” error that does not affect the outcome of the case.
  • Essential job function – Fundamental job duties of the employment position the individual with a disability holds or desires. The term “essential functions” does not include the marginal functions of the position.

A job function may be considered essential for any of several reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • The function may be essential because the reason the position exists is to perform that function;
  • The function may be essential because of the limited number of employees available among whom the performance of that job function can be distributed; and/or
  • The function may be highly specialized so that the incumbent in the position is hired for his or her expertise or ability to perform the particular function.

Evidence of whether a particular function is essential includes, but is not limited to:

  • The employer’s judgment as to which functions are essential;
  • Written job descriptions prepared before advertising or interviewing applicants for the job;
  • The amount of time spent on the job performing the function;
  • The consequences of not requiring the incumbent to perform the function;
  • The terms of a collective bargaining agreement;
  • The work experience of past incumbents in the job; and/or
  • The current work experience of incumbents in similar jobs.
  • Estoppel – A doctrine that allows the court to dismiss a frivolous argument before it goes to trial. For example, a plaintiff that loses a case at trial would be barred from arguing that same case again.


  • Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) – Organization that provides information and services on assistive technology, to help bring the highest quality education for children with disabilities.
  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – Federal agency that is responsible for enforcement of Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which covers telecommunications. The FCC address all types of consumer-related matters – from answering questions and responding to consumer complaints, to distributing consumer education materials and assuring consumer input in their policy making activities.
  • Federal Court – All federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Once confirmed, a federal judge has a lifetime term. There are three levels of courts in the federal system: District Courts, Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court.
  • Friend of the Court Brief – Commonly-referred term for an amicus brief, which provides individuals or organizations (such as government agencies or disability organizations) without a direct stake in the lawsuit to provide information or legal arguments to the court.
  • Fundamental alteration – A modification that is so significant that it alters the essential nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations offered. If a public entity can demonstrate that the modification would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity, it is not required to make the modification. If a public accommodation can demonstrate that a modification would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations it provides, it is not required to make the modification.


  • Grants cert – see certiorari.
  • Guidance – Many agencies that enforce an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) issue informal statements of guidance. These statements do not have the force of law but provide information about how the agency interprets the ADA.


  • Harassment – Unwelcome conduct in the workplace based on an individual’s disability that creates an environment that makes it difficult for that person to work.
  • Hearing Carry-Over (HCO) – A call type method used by people who have difficulty speaking but have no difficulty hearing voice. A less common call type than Voice Carry-Over (VCO), the HCO allows a speech-impaired person to type messages on a TTY (which are voiced by the relay operator) and then pick up the handset and listen to the other person’s response.


  • Impairment – A physical impairment is a physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body systems. A mental impairment is any mental or psychological disorder.
  • Individual with a Disability – A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual or a record of such an impairment or is regarded as having such an impairment.
  • Injunction – A court order that requires a party to either do something (i.e., build a curb cut) or stop doing something (i.e., stop denying rides to paratransit passengers).
  • Integration – Individuals with disabilities must be integrated to the maximum extent appropriate.
  • Interactive Process – An informal dialogue between the employer and employee used to identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability and determine potential reasonable accommodations that could overcome those limitations.


  • Jurisdiction – The defined area of responsibility to which a law applies within and thereby has the authority to hear a case. Also, the practical authority granted to a formally constituted legal body or to a political leader to deal with and make pronouncements on legal matters and, by implication, to administer justice within a defined area of responsibility. For example, a Federal court may not have jurisdiction over a violation of a state law.


  • Major life activity – An activity that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty.
  • Marginal functions – Duties of a job that are not absolutely necessary for the job being performed.
  • Mediation – When a third party holds an informal meeting with both sides in a dispute to promote resolution of a grievance, a compromise, or a settlement of a lawsuit. The result of the mediation, if any, is not binding on the parties. A mediator can be court-appointed or chosen by the parties.
  • Mitigating measures – A measure utilized (such as medication or glasses) that eliminates or reduces the symptoms of an impairment, so it is longer substantially limiting.

In the case of Sutton v. United Airlines, the Supreme Court ruled that courts must take mitigating measures, such as medication, into account in determining the disability status of an individual plaintiff. The plaintiffs in Sutton were twin sisters with severe visual impairments who were denied jobs as airline pilots because of their uncorrected vision. However, while wearing eyeglasses, the sisters have normal vision. The Court ruled that the plaintiffs did not have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), taking their use of eyeglasses into account. The Sutton ruling affects people who have impairments like diabetes or mental illness that can be controlled by medication, or impairments like hearing loss that can be corrected through devices like a hearing aid.

  • Motion – A request by a party to a judge to settle a procedural issue in litigation.


  • National Center on Accessibility (NCA) – Organization that provides training, technical assistance and research on access to parks, recreation, and tourism.
  • National Council on Disability (NCD) – Independent Federal agency making recommendations to the President and Congress on issues affecting Americans with disabilities.
  • National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) – Under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this organization provides funding for various projects, including the ten regional centers in the ADA National Network that provide information, training, and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


  • Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) – Under the U.S. Department of Labor, provides national leadership by developing and influencing disability-related employment policies as well as practices that affect the employment of people with disabilities.
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) – Part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration, responsible for ensuring that employers doing business with the Federal government comply with the laws and regulations requiring nondiscrimination.


  • Party – A term that applies to anyone directly involved in a lawsuit, whether that person is a plaintiff or defendant.
  • Path of travel – A continuous, unobstructed way of pedestrian passage.
  • Per curiam – Usually, opinions by judges are signed. Occasionally, a circuit court or the Supreme Court may issue an unsigned, or per curiam, opinion that expresses a view of the majority of judges or justices. Often, a per curiam opinion will be accompanied by various concurring or dissenting opinions.
  • Personal services or personal devices – Public entities and public accommodations are not required to provide personal services or personal devices. Examples of personal devices that entities are not required to provide include wheelchairs, prescription eyeglasses, and hearing aids. Personal assistance service need not be provided in activities such as eating, toileting, and dressing unless the service is typically provided by the entity.
  • Plaintiff – The person who filed the lawsuit. In ADA litigation, the plaintiff is almost always a person with a disability.
  • Portable Document Format (PDF) – An open file format created and controlled by Adobe Systems for representing two-dimensional documents in a device independent and resolution independent fixed-layout document format. Unless properly tagged, these documents will be inaccessible to those with visual impairments.
  • Prima facie – Evidence that is sufficient to prove a case unless disproved by the other party. An Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plaintiff must establish a prima facie case before trial; in employment cases, a plaintiff must show that he or she has a disability, that he or she is “qualified” to do his or her job, and that he or she experienced discrimination based on disability.
  • Primary function areas – Areas housing the major activities for which a facility was intended.
  • Program access – A public entity’s services, programs, or activities, when viewed in their entirety, must be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.
  • Pro se – A party who is acting on his or her own, without a lawyer to represent them.
  • Public accommodations – Private entities that own, operate, lease, or lease to places of public accommodation. Places of public accommodation include places such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, retail stores, shopping centers, dry cleaners, laundromats, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusement parks, private schools, day care centers, health spas, and bowling alleys.
  • Public entity – A public entity covered by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is defined as:
    • Any State or local government,
    • Any department or agency of State or local government,
    • Certain commuter authorities,
    • AMTRAK.
  • Punitive damages – The damages that are awarded on top of any other available damages to punish a losing party for misconduct.


  • Qualified individual with a disability – A person with a disability who satisfies the requisite skill, experience, education, and other job-related requirements of the employment position such individual holds or desires, and who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of such position.


  • Readily achievable – Easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Public accommodations are required to remove barriers when it is readily achievable to do so.
  • Reasonable accommodation – A modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things usually are done that enables a qualified individual with a disability to enjoy an equal employment opportunity. For example:
  1. Modifications or adjustments to a job application process that enable a qualified applicant with a disability to be considered for the position such qualified applicant desires; or
  2. Modifications or adjustments to the work environment, or to the manner or circumstances under which the position held or desired is customarily performed, that enable a qualified individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of that position; or
  3. Modifications or adjustments that enable a covered entity’s employee with a disability to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment as are enjoyed by its other similarly situated employees without disabilities.
  • Reasonable modification – A public entity must modify its policies, practice, or procedures to avoid discrimination unless the modification would fundamentally alter the nature of its service, program, or activity.
  • Regulations – Regulations are issued by government agencies and have the force of law. Regulations provide more detailed interpretation of statutes. Federal regulations can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations.
  • Remand – The act of a higher court returning a case to a lower court. When a circuit court or the Supreme Court rules that a lower court has made an error in the law, the court remands the case back to a lower court. The lower court then corrects its error and proceeds with the case.
  • Respondent – The party against who an appeal is filed. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can be a respondent. Some courts use the term “appellee” instead of respondent.
  • Retaliation – Individuals who exercise their rights under that Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are protected from those who would take steps to “pay them back” for their actions.


  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – As amended, was enacted by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Inaccessible technology interferes with an individual’s ability to obtain and use information quickly and easily. Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.
  • Settlement agreement – An agreement between parties to settle a lawsuit before it goes to trial. The parties agree to settle their dispute and to dismiss the lawsuit. Settlement agreements do not have the force of law.
  • Sovereign immunity – The doctrine that a citizen of a state cannot sue the state for money damages in federal court without the state’s approval. This principle is stated in the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court, in the case of Garrett v. University of Alabama, ruled that this doctrine applied to Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title I lawsuits filed by state employees against their employers. The Garrett decision limits most, but not all, federal employment discrimination lawsuits based on disability against state government entities. Several circuit courts have ruled that states are also immune from lawsuits for money damages under ADA Title II, but the Supreme Court has not reviewed this issue as of yet.
  • Speech-To-Speech (STS) – A relay service available to any telephone callers with a speech disability and to those who wish to talk with them.
  • Standing – The legal doctrine that only those individuals who are qualified to assert or enforce legal rights or duties have access to a court.

In any lawsuit, the plaintiff has to show that he or she has “standing,” or the legal right to sue. One element of “standing” is the concept of “redressability” – the doctrine that the court must have the authority to implement whatever remedies that the plaintiff seeks. In some Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III cases, courts have ruled that plaintiffs with disabilities do not have standing to sue defendants, even when those defendants violate ADA Title III. The majority of these cases involve individuals who are deaf that sue hospitals that do not provide interpreters. Even though hospitals that do not provide interpreters violate the ADA, courts have ruled that plaintiffs do not have standing because they will not experience further discrimination, either because the plaintiff stated he or she would not return to that hospital or because the hospital has taken steps to ensure future ADA compliance.

  • Statute – A law made by a legislature, such as the United States Congress. Federal statutes can be found in the United States Code.
  • Substantial limitation – An individual who is unable to perform, or is significantly limited in the ability to perform, a major life activity that the average person in the general population can perform.
  • Summary judgment – A ruling by a court that one party in a lawsuit is entitled to win as a matter of law before the case goes to trial. The court has to find that there are no set of facts that would allow the losing party to win.
  • Supreme Court – hears cases appealed from the circuit courts, and which generally raise novel questions of law. For example, the Supreme Court will generally choose to hear cases where a “split” has occurred among the different circuits, with one circuit deciding a case one way and another circuit deciding a case the other way. Decisions made by the Supreme Court are binding on all lower courts. The Supreme Court decides which cases to take through a process known as certiorari, sometimes abbreviated as “cert.

For more information, visit the Supreme Court website for its schedule and past opinions and the website for detailed set resources on upcoming Supreme Court decisions 

Surcharges – Surcharges for provision of auxiliary aids and services, barrier removal, alternatives to barrier removal or other modifications to provide an equal opportunity to people with disabilities are prohibited.


  • Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) – An electronic device for text communication via a telephone line, used when one or more of the parties has hearing or speech difficulties.
  • Telecommunication Relay Service (TRS) – Also known as Relay Service, or IP-Relay, this is an operator service that allows individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, speech-impaired, and speech-disabled to place calls to standard telephone users via TDD, TTY, personal computer or other assistive telephone device.
  • Teletypewriter (TTY) – Also known as a Teletype, or text telephone, this is a device for text communication via a telephone line, used when one or more of the parties has hearing or speech difficulties.
  • Title – A section of a statute. For example, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has five titles.
  • Title I – Of the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title I of the ADA pertains to Employment. Under ADA Title I, covered entities shall not discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability. This applies to job application procedures, hiring, advancement and discharge of employees, worker’s compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
  • Title II – Of the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title II of the ADA pertains to State and Local Government (public entities). ADA Title II requires agencies to comply with regulations similar to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These rules cover access to all services, programs, or activities offered by the public entity, and extends coverage to public transportation entities. Access includes physical access described in the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards or the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and access that might be obstructed by discriminatory policies or procedures of the entity.
  • Title III – Of the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title III of the ADA pertains to Public Accommodations (private entities). Under ADA Title III, no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.
  • Title IV – Of the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title IV of the ADA pertains to Telecommunications. ADA Title IV addresses telephone and television access for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. Specific requirements under Title IV includes: closed captioning of Federally funded public service announcements (PSA), and telephone companies must establish in-state and state-to-state telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Title V – Of the five titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Title V of the ADA pertains to miscellaneous provisions, most of which apply to all titles of the ADA.


  • Undue burden – Significant difficulty or expense. A public accommodation is not required to provide any auxiliary aid or service that would result in an undue burden.
  • Undue hardship – An action that requires “significant difficulty or expense” in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the operation. The concept of undue hardship includes any action that is unduly costly, extensive, substantial, disruptive, or would fundamentally alter the nature or operation of the business. Accordingly, whether a particular accommodation will impose an undue hardship must always be determined on a case-by- case basis.
  • Undue financial and administrative burden – A public entity does not have to take any action that it can demonstrate would result in an undue financial and administrative burden. This applies in program accessibility, effective communication, and auxiliary aids and services. The determination of a undue financial and administrative burden must be:
  1. Made by the head of the public entity or his/her designee.
  2. Accompanied by a written statement of the reasons.
  3. Based on all resources available for use in the program.
  • Universal design (UD) – Also known as “inclusive design” and “design for all,” this is an approach to the design of products, places, policies and services that can meet the needs of as many people as possible throughout their lifetime, regardless of age, ability, or situation.


  • Voice Carry-Over (VCO) – A call type method that allows an individual who is deaf or hard of hearing to use his or her voice while receiving responses from a hearing person via text typed by the relay operator (also known as communication assistant or relay agent). VCO, a more common call type than Hearing Carry-Over (HCO), has many variations, including 2-Line VCO.
  • Video Relay Services (VRS) – allows an individual who uses sign language to able to place a phone call by signing instead of typing. The VI (video interpreter) uses a web cam or videophone to voice the signs of the individual who is deaf or has a hearing or speech disability to the person who has hearing and sign the words of the person who has hearing to the individual who is deaf or has a hearing or speech disability.


  • Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) – This is the effort of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that pursues accessibility of the Web through technology, guidelines, tools, education and outreach, and research and development.
  • Writ of certiorari – see certiorari
  • Working – Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plaintiffs can argue that they have substantial limitations in one or more major life activities. The major life activity of “working” is considered to be the major life activity of “last resort.” Plaintiffs who argue that they have an impairment that affects their ability to work must show that their impairment limits their ability to work in a “broad range” of jobs, rather than in just one job or class of jobs. Courts usually require plaintiffs to submit detailed evidence (usually from a vocational rehabilitation agency) of their ability to do certain types of jobs that are available in the community. Plaintiffs who argue a limitation in “working” usually are not able to prove that they meet the ADA definition of disability.
  • World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – An organization that develops interoperable technologies (specifications, guidelines, software, and tools) to lead the Web to its full potential. The W3C is a forum for information, commerce, communication, and collective understanding.