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State and Local Governments

The ADA is meant to ensure that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of civic life. Under Title II, all state/local governments must follow the ADA regardless of their size.

If you are part of a state/local government program or a person with a disability, there are many aspects of the ADA that you should be familiar with. The information below is intended to help get you started.

Title II Applies to State/Local Programs

Examples of state/local service, programs, or activities that need to comply with the ADA include:

  • Public education (schools)
  • Public Transportation
  • Recreation
  • Health care
  • Social services
  • Courts
  • Voting
  • Emergency services
  • Offices where people go to:
    • Renew licenses
    • Apply for food stamps
    • Pay their taxes
    • Attend town meetings
    • Serve on boards and commissions
    • Conduct other government business

General Requirement

Title II of the ADA requires state/local governments to give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities. State/local governments can’t deny people with disabilities the chance to participate or make them participate in different programs than available to others.

Specific Requirements

The ADA also includes specific requirements for state/local governments. For example, if you are part of a state/local government you must:

  • Communicate with people with disabilities as effectively as you communicate with others.
  • Make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where needed to make sure that a person with a disability can access the state/local government’s programs, services, or activities.
  • Allow service animals to be with their person even if you have a no pets policy.
  • Provide program access by ensuring that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from programs because existing buildings or facilities are inaccessible to them.
  • Follow specific standards for physical accessibility when building or altering a building or facility.
  • Follow specific requirements for ticket sales and testing accommodations.

You can find examples of these requirements and how they look in practice in the tables below.

You can also learn about these and other requirements in the State and Local Government Primer.

Making Reasonable Modifications

State/local governments need to make reasonable modifications when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. Here are some examples of specific scenarios involving a person with a disability that could be resolved with a reasonable modification:

Scenario Possible Solution
A public museum does not allow food. A person with diabetes has requested to bring in snacks to manage their blood sugar. The museum allows the person to bring in snacks.
A person with a service dog tries to enter a public library that has a “no pets” rule. The city makes an exception to its “no pets” in public libraries and other city buildings to allow people with disabilities to use their service dogs.

Learn more about service animals.

A person with a mobility disability tries to access a state park on his Segway; the park does not normally allow motorized vehicles on park trails. The state park grants an exemption from its rule and permits the visitor to use his Segway on the park’s walking trails.

Learn more about requirements related to mobility devices.

A state/local government does not need to modify a policy if it would fundamentally alter the nature of the program, service, or activity.

What does fundamentally alter mean?

A fundamental alteration is something that would change the essential nature of the entity’s programs or services. For example, a local government would not be required to move a beach volleyball tournament to an indoor court.

Communicating Effectively with People with Disabilities

Communication is an essential part of providing service to the public. The ADA requires state/local governments to communicate as effectively with people with disabilities as with others. Because the nature of communication differs from program to program, the rules allow for flexibility in determining effective solutions. Sometimes the solution will require the state/local government to provide aids or services, like a sign language interpreter. Here are some examples of specific scenarios that could be resolved with a communication aid or service:

Scenario Possible Solution
A person with hearing loss tries to access their county tax office with complex questions about property tax assessments. The clerk in the county tax office provides a sign language interpreter who can assist with communicating about the property tax assessments.

Learn more about other aids or services that can be used to provide effective communication.

A person with low vision who uses a screen reader wants to register to vote using the state government’s online form. The elections office ensures that their online forms are accessible to people who use screen readers.

We provide more examples on our page about effective communication. That page also includes information about when a state/local government may not be required to provide a particular aid or service.

Access to Programs and Services in Existing Facilities

State/local governments are required to provide program access. The program access requirement ensures that individuals with disabilities are not excluded from any program or service because existing buildings and facilities are inaccessible. State/local governments must look at their programs/services in their entirety or as a whole to ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities. They can meet this obligation in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:

Type of Accessibility Issue Possible Solution
A person with a mobility disability wants to borrow books from the town’s public library after reviewing the book catalog online. The library has not been altered since before the ADA was passed and has stairs and narrow doorways that make it inaccessible to her. Staff provides curb-side service to allow the person to check out and return materials.
A third-grade student who uses a wheelchair attends a two-story school built before the ADA, and not altered since then; the school does not have an elevator. The school locates the third-grade classroom on the first-floor.

There are a few limits to the program access requirements. State/local governments are not required to take any action that would result in undue financial and administrative burden.

What is an undue burden?

An undue burden means a significant difficulty or expense. Whether something is a significant difficulty or expense will vary from government to government and may vary from year to year.

If a request or action would cause an undue burden, the state/local government must look for an alternative to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive the benefits or services provided by the state/local government.

Learn more about program access and the limitations on this requirement in the State and Local Government Primer.

Ticket Sales and Testing Accommodations

Testing Accommodations Scenario Possible Solution
An older adult with a learning disability is enrolled in a community college and requests additional time to take the placement test. The community college grants the applicant extended time to take the exam.

Learn more about providing testing accommodations.

Ticket Sales Scenario Possible Solution
A wheelchair user tries to buy accessible seating to a state university college football game and is directed to call the box office because accessible seating is not available for purchase online. The university makes accessible seating available for purchase online.

Learn more about requirements for ticket sales.

New Construction and Alterations

When state/local governments build or alter facilities, they must make them accessible to people with disabilities. To make them accessible, state/local governments need to follow the ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The information below is intended to help get you started.

ADA Standards Basics

Chapter 1: Application and Administration
Chapter 2: Scoping
Chapters 3 – 10: Design and Technical Requirements

Common Topics

Accessible Route
Parking Spaces
Sales and Service

Section 227 and 904

Note: Sections cover sales and service areas, such as check-out aisles and sales and service counters.

Dining Surfaces
Dressing, Fitting and Locker Rooms
Door, Doorways and Gates
Ramps
Curb Ramps

Learn more about these and other requirements

State and Local Government Primer