Guide to ADA Terminology

Guide to ADA Terminology

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990 as a civil rights law to prohibit discrimination towards individuals with a disability. The ADA spans all public entities including employment, transportation, schools, and all spaces that are open to the general public. By protecting the civil rights of those living with disabilities, the ADA has created equal opportunity across all demographics, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or religion.

Here at Acorn Sign Graphics, our mission is to use strategic design to help progress the mission of the ADA. Not only do we focus on ADA-compliance with our clients, we strive to take it further. We focus on environmental design that not only makes our clients’ space more accessible and inclusive, but also able to further a company’s brand and mission. Because we believe in furthering the ADA through our work, we also strive to educate our clients and the design industry about inclusion for disabled communities. By learning common terminology surrounding the ADA, we can prepare ourselves to better serve our communities and society at large.

Important ADA Terminology

Accessible information technology – Refers to any technology that has been designed to be usable by people with a broad range of abilities and disabilities. This technology is designed for users to interact with it by whatever means is accessible to him or her.

American Sign Language – The standard language used by the Deaf community in the United States, areas in Mexico, and English-speaking areas in Canada.

Architectural Barriers Act – Congress enacted this act in 1968 as a means to make public buildings more accessible for individuals with disabilities. It regulates technical requirements for buildings, facilities and areas that may be used by those with a disability. It was the first government motion to provide accessibility in public environments for people with disabilities.

Assistive technology (AT) – Refers to any technology that provides assistant to individuals with disabilities in order for them to maintain or improve their functional capabilities in their environment, such as Braille displays, modified keyboards, or screen readers.

Certification of equivalency – A required certificate that states that a building meets or exceeds the requirements established by in Title III of the ADA

Disability – A mental or physical impairment that significantly prevents an individual from performing one or more major life activities

Environmental Design – A field of study that explores environmental situations in context to the strategic planning of buildings, geography, programs, architecture, urban planning and more. Environmental Design covers a wide range of topics and issues focused on human-centric design, accessibility, and sustainability.

Equal Opportunity – Regulations that ensure that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to perform, participate in, and benefit from services or environments that is equal to those of the general public.

Integration – The idea that those with disabilities must be equally considered and accommodated.

Interactive Process – The conversation between employers and an employees with a disability to ensure the employer understands their limitations and helps them determine reasonable accommodations to assist the employee.

Marginal functions – Aspects of a position or job that are not critical to the performance of the position.

Mitigating measures – Utilization of a method to reduce or eliminate the effects of an impairment or disability so that an individual is not limited by it, such as glasses, hearing aids or medication

National Center on Accessibility (NCA) – An organization founded in 1992 dedicated to researching and promoting accessibility and inclusion in the departments of parks, recreation and tourism. They work to provide training and resources to organizations, government entities, facilities and businesses in order to promote their mission to make parks and recreation more accessible for those with disabilities.

National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) – An organization within the U.S. Department of Education that works to provide funding and resources to various regional organizations that are dedicated to promoting the ADA. In addition to funding, these resources include training materials, courses, technical assistance, information and more.

Path of travel – A pedestrian passageway that is unobstructed and continuous Primary function areas – Areas within a building or facility that are dedicated for the main activities performed in the building.

Reasonable accommodation – Any rational modification to an aspect of a job so that an employee with a disability can perform the full responsibilities of a position and have the opportunity for equal employment. These adjustments can include the method of job application process, work environment modifications, or benefit packages.

Speech-To-Speech (STS) – A telephone relay service that provides individuals with speech disabilities the ability to communicate on the phone and those who wish to communicate with them.

Universal design (UD) – An design method and approach with the mission of accessibility and inclusion for all. This approach has the intention of creating products, services, policies and environments that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities over their lifetimes.

Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) – A mission of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to promote accessibility online through research development, education, tools, technological advances and more. The W3C is an organization that develops technology for the exchange of information online. Acorn Sign Graphics is dedicated to furthering the mission of the ADA. We focus on creating innovative custom signage that further your brand voice and project objectives, as well as upholding the standards and goals of the ADA. If you’re interested in learning more about the Acorn Sign Graphic and our clients, check out our work at



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