Title II of the ADA: State and Local Government
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination by state and local governments. It applies to all kinds of state or local governments and the services they provide. These include services from police departments, county councils, courts, and voting. The ADA covers state agencies like SC Department of Social Services (DSS) or SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN). Title II does not apply to private businesses. They are covered by another part of the ADA called Title III1
Your Rights under ADA Title II
There should not be different rules about when and where the government provides its services to someone with a disability. Special programs can be offered for people with disabilities, but they should be able to participate in programs open to the general public. The US Department of Justice has said that the integration of people with disabilities into the mainstream of American life is a fundamental purpose of the ADA.
The ADA requires public entities to make “reasonable modifications” in their usual ways of doing things when necessary so someone with a disability can take part in the program. Examples of modifications could include:
- A man who uses crutches may have difficulty waiting in a long line to vote or register for college classes. The ADA does not require that the man be moved to the front of the line but staff must provide some alternative. They could bring out a chair and note where he is in line, so he doesn’t lose his place.
- A public agency that does not allow people to bring food into its facility may need to make an exception for a person who has diabetes and needs to eat frequently to control his glucose level.
- A city or county ordinance that prohibits animals in public places must be modified to allow people with disabilities who use service animals to access public places. A city or county ordinance that prohibits motorized devices on public sidewalks must be modified for people with disabilities who use motorized mobility devices that can be used safely on sidewalks.
Only “reasonable” modifications are required. The ADA does not required changes the government can show would:
- Threaten the safety of others, or result in a “fundamental alteration” of the essential nature of the entity’s programs or services
A government office has a duty to communicate in a way that a person with a disability can understand. This includes someone who is deaf or blind. The government is to provide equipment or services that are needed for communication. Examples:
- Sign language interpreter (if writing notes is not effective)
- Large print documents or Braille printing
- Readers or note takers (for a student at a state college)
Governments are to provide the aid or service requested by the person with the disability. However, they can turn down that request if the government can show that it would (1) fundamentally alter the nature of their program, service, or activity or (2) would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. Even then, the government must provide the most effective communication that is feasible. They cannot charge extra for communication services.
Accessibility of government buildings
The ADA’s basic requirement is that government programs be available to people with disabilities. One way for a program to be available is making the building or place physically accessible to people with disabilities. Under the ADA, government buildings built or altered since 1991 must be accessible. This includes the building’s parking areas, doors, and restrooms. In an older building that is not accessible, the government should offer its service in some other way. For example, if a social service agency is located in an inaccessible office, it could meet an applicant with a mobility disability at some other place that is accessible.
Enforcement of Your Rights
If you believe your ADA rights are being violated, you can:
- Complain to the state or government agency where the problem is. Every government with at least 50 employees must have an “ADA Coordinator” and a way for you to file a grievance (complaint). For a smaller government, write to the head of the government, such as the mayor.
- File a complaint with the federal government. A federal complaint can be sent to the US Department of Justice. A complaint can be sent directly to other federal departments, depending the kind of complaint you have. For example complaints about state or local colleges would go to the US Department of Education; complaints about city or county
parks would go the US Department of the Interior. A full listing where to send federal complaint is included in this fact sheet.
- File a lawsuit in federal court. You are not required to file a complaint before filing a lawsuit. For more information about filing a lawsuit you may wish to contact a private attorney. If you do not know of one, you may contact the Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-868-2284.
Title II—Where to File Your Discrimination Complaint
State/Local Government Agencies
State or local government agencies with 50 or more employees are required to designate an ADA Coordinator and to adopt grievance procedures to resolve complaints of ADA violations. If the agency that you believe discriminated against you has 50 or more employees, ask to speak to the ADA Coordinator (ADA Coordinators are sometimes called Disability Coordinators or 504 Coordinators). You may also file a grievance. For smaller government agencies, contact the office of the person in charge of the agency and ask how you can file a complaint. This could be the mayor’s office or a commissioner’s office.
Federal Government Agencies
If you are not satisfied with action on your grievance by your local/state government agency, or if you do not wish to file a grievance, you may file a complaint of discrimination with the federal government. Complaints of discrimination under Title II are investigated by several different federal agencies. See designated agencies list below. You may always file your complaint with the Department of Justice; however, it may take some time for them to forward your complaint to the appropriate agency. If you can file with the appropriate agency, it may result in quicker action on your complaint.
Department of Agriculture: All programs, services, and regulatory activities relating to farming and the raising of livestock, including extension services. Complaints should be sent to: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Director, Office of Adjudication; 1400 Independence Avenue, SW; Washington, DC 20250.
Department of Education: All programs, services, and regulatory activities relating to the operation of elementary and secondary education systems and institutions, institutions of higher education and vocational education (other than schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and other health-related schools), and libraries. Complaints should be sent to: Office for Civil Rights; U.S. Department of Education; 400 Maryland Avenue, SW; Washington, D.C. 20202-1475.
Department of Health and Human Services: All programs, services and regulatory activities relating to the provision of health care and social services, including schools of medicine, dentistry, nursing and other health-related schools, the operation of health care and social service providers and institutions, including grass-roots and community services organizations and programs, and preschool and day care programs. Complaints should be sent to: Centralized Case Management Operations; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 200 Independence Avenue, SW; Room 509F HHH Bldg.; Washington, D.C. 20201.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: All programs and services and regulatory activities relating to state and local public housing, and housing assistance and referral. Complaints should be sent to: Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Department of Housing and Urban Development, 451 7th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20410 or Atlanta Regional Office, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Southeast Office 40 Marietta Street Atlanta, GA 30303
Department of the Interior: All programs and services and regulatory activities relating to lands and natural resources, including parks and recreation, water and waste management, environmental protection, energy, historic and cultural preservation, and museums. Complaints should be sent to: Director, Office of Civil Rights, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20547
Department of Justice: All programs, services and regulatory activities relating to law enforcement, public safety and the administration of justice, including courts and correctional institutions; commerce and industry, including general economic development, banking and finance, consumer protection, insurance, and small business; planning, development and regulation (unless assigned to other designated agencies); state and local government support services (e.g., audit, personnel, comptroller, administrative services); all other government functions not assigned to other designated agencies. Complaints should be sent to: US Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Civil Rights Division Disability Rights Section – 1425 NYAV Washington, D.C. 20530
Department of Labor: All programs, services and regulatory activities relating to labor and the work force. Complaints should be sent to: Director, Civil Rights Center, ATTN Office of External Enforcement, Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue, NW, Room N-4123, Washington, D.C. 20210
Department of Transportation: All programs about local public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak). Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities. They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Paratransit is a service where individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system independently (because of a physical or mental impairment) are picked up and dropped off at their destinations. Questions and complaints about public transportation should be directed to: Office of Civil Rights, Federal Transit Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue SE, Washington, D.C. 20590
Contact List For More Information
US Department of Justice ADA Information Hotline
1-800-514-0301 (voice) or 1-800-514-0383 (TTY)
US Department of Justice
File a complaint online in English here.
File a complaint online in Spanish here.
File a complaint by Mail: US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section – 1425 NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530
File a complaint by fax: (202) 307-1197
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF)
3075 Adeline Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94703
510.644.2555 (Voice) 510-841-8645 (Fax/TTY)
Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board)
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 2004-1111
1-800-872-2253 (voice) or 1-800-993-2822 (TTY)
(202) 272-0081 (Fax)
1 See Disability Rights South Carolina’s fact sheet, Americans with Disabilities Act (Title III)
Disability Rights South Carolina is the Protection and Advocacy System for South Carolina. This publication provides legal information but is not intended to be legal advice. As the law may change, please contact Disability Rights South Carolina for updates. Please let us know if you would like this information in an alternative format.
This publication was made possible by funding, in part, by SAMHSA. These contents are solely the responsibility of the grantee and do not necessarily represent the official views of SAMHSA.
Last updated: 2023