Two Laws Protect People with Disabilities
Two laws in Maine protect people with disabilities in Maine. Both laws make it illegal for government agencies to discriminate against people with disabilities. Government agencies must also take steps to make it easier for people with disabilities to use and enjoy public services and benefits. The first law is the ADA, which applies all over the United States. The second is the Maine Human Rights Act, a law limited to Maine.
Americans with Disabilities Act Overview
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in many areas, including:
- Government benefits and services. These are called “public entities” under the ADA.
- Restaurants, stores, parks, schools, and other privately owned businesses that are open to the public These are called “public accommodations” under the ADA.
Am I protected by the ADA?
The ADA protects you if you are a "qualified individual on the basis of a disability.” Let's look at each part of this law.
A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of your major life activities.
A major life activity includes:
- caring for yourself,
- performing manual tasks,
- communicating, and
It also includes major bodily functions like:
- your immune system,
- endocrine, and
- reproductive functions
A disability substantially limits a major life activity if:
- It lasts more than 6 months and,
- Has more than a minor effect on a major life activity.
A disability that is treated with medicine or corrected by an aid or device substantially limits you if you need the medicine, aid, or device to function. The only exception is normal glasses or contact lenses.
A government agency may have to:
- Make reasonable changes to its rules or practices to help you become eligible if your disability makes it hard for you to get benefits or services.
- Make physical changes to allow you to access a public place or service if you are disabled.
- Provide aids or other special devices (like an interpreter, reader, or special equipment) to help you use the benefit or service.
The ADA protects you if someone thinks you have a disability, or treats you like you are disabled, even if you are not limited in any way.
What is a Public Entity under the ADA?
- Any state or local government
- Any department, agency or branch of a state or local government
- Your town office
- Public housing authority
- Recreation program organized by your town
- County courthouse
- Public library
- Town meeting
For more information on agencies that may help you with ADA questions, check the ADA Information Services web site.
Maine Human Rights Act Overview
The MHRA forbids discrimination against people with disabilities in:
- Public accommodation
"Public Accommodation" means:
- Buildings or services that are owned or run by a government agency
- Businesses that are open to the public.
The MHRA gives people with disabilities the right to full and equal enjoyment of these public businesses and services.
MHRA and ADA
The MHRA is like the ADA. But more people with disabilities are covered by the MHRA. Under this state law you are disabled if:
- You have a physical or mental impairment that:
- Makes it hard for you to hear, walk, talk, read, think, or care for yourself,
- Impairs your physical or mental health, or
- Causes you to get special education or rehabilitation services;
- You have one of the disabilities listed in the MHRA,
- You had a disability in the past; or
- Someone treats you like you are disabled, or thinks you will become disabled.
Like the ADA, a disabled person must be qualified to use the public place, program, or activity. A person must meet the eligibility standards for the place, program, or activity.
What does the MHRA require from Public Entities?
The MHRA requires state and local governments to give qualified people with disabilities equal access to all public places, programs, and activities. People with disabilities must be able to use the same buildings, and join in the same activities as others. Separate facilities are illegal. You may need to request a reasonable accommodation to get the equal access. For example, if you need an ASL interpreter or other service, you may ask for this in advance so that the agency can arrange for the accommodation.
What can I do if a Public Entity engages in illegal discrimination?
You have several choices:
- You can file a complaint with the public entity.
- You can file a complaint with any federal agency that you think may give funding to the public entity.
- You can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
- You can bring a lawsuit in court against the public entity.
- You can contact the Maine Human Rights Commission at 624-6290
You must file a complaint with a federal agency within 180 days of the discrimination.
You must file a Charge of Discrimination with the Maine Human Rights Commission within 300 days of the discrimination.
If you think the discrimination is ongoing, you have to file within 300 days of the most recent discriminatory act.
The best approach is often to file a complaint with:
U.S. Department of Justice
Maine Human Rights Commission
V/TTY: 711 (Maine Relay)
For legal help in Maine, you may also contact:
Disability Rights Center of Maine
Eligibility requirements apply. Even if they can't take your case, they may be able to tell you how to file a complaint. They may also refer you to a private attorney who could be paid by the defendant if you win your case.
Learn more about illegal discrimination in housing
PTLA # 841