Disability Rights

Disability Rights

The information provided below is for informational purposes only.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) are comprehensive anti-discrimination statutes that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in private employment, state and local government employment, public accommodations, public transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. Title I of the ADA prohibits discrimination against any qualified individual with a disability in employment. Employers with 15 or more employees are subject to the ADA. However, unlike the ADA, the MHRA covers all employers operating in the State of Maine, regardless of size. This is an important distinction in a state like Maine, which has many small businesses.

Notice: Families with children with disabilities are protected under federal and state laws which prohibit discrimination against:

  • persons with disabilities and
  • families with children

Tenants are also protected by state law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person's source of income, such as general assistance, TANF, or SSI. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is illegal discrimination against persons with disabilities?

  • Under state and federal law, it is illegal to treat people with disabilities differently from people without disabilities. This includes asking if someone is disabled, or uses prescription medication, or has ever been hospitalized.
  • Under state and federal law, you must be allowed to make physical modifications to a housing structure if you have a disability and if the modifications are necessary for you to enjoy full use of the unit.

You must pay for the change, and your landlord can require you to restore the inside of the unit to the way it was before the change was made.

Exceptions: Landlords for housing built or rehabilitated with federal funds (such as HUD or Rural Housing) must pay for reasonable modifications. This does not include Section 8. Ramps and accessible routes to common areas in these units must be kept safe and in good repair. Snow and ice must be removed.

The modification can be denied if it poses an undue financial burden to the landlord or if it changes the fundamental nature of the program. For example, even a landlord who receives federal funding does not have to spend 90% of his profit to make physical changes to a unit. This is really a specific factor to be considered in figuring if a modification is reasonable.

Once you have received a reasonable accommodation for your disabilities, you can't be treated differently from persons without disabilities. For example, a landlord cannot require you to pay a special "pet deposit" for an assistive animal.

Who is protected from discrimination against persons with disabilities?

If you have a physical or mental impairment which interferes with a major life activity, you have a disability.  If you have a record or history of such an impairment or you are perceived as having such an impairment, you are also protected.  In addition, under Maine state law, if you have a mental health diagnosis, or you receive special education, vocational rehabilitation or related services, you are protected.

There is no hard and fast rule about how long a disability must last. Maine law protects persons with temporary impairments.


  • If you have an impairment that interferes with breathing, walking, learning, or seeing, you are protected. If you have a history of depression or cancer, but you are cured or in remission, you cannot be discriminated against. If other people think you have AIDS, but you don't, then you are perceived to have an impairment, and you are protected from discrimination.

How do I ask for a reasonable modification or accommodation? Does a doctor have to verify my need for one?

Typically, you should make a specific request in writing and have a doctor's note that says you have a disability and that you need the requested accommodation because of your disability. The request does not have to give your diagnosis.

Sometimes, however, the need for a request is obvious or there is an emergency.  Then you may make an oral request. Even in these cases, follow up the request in writing.

It is also possible that, because of your disability, you cannot make a written request at all. In this case, you may make the request orally or ask someone else to do it for you.

A doctor is not always the best person to ask for verification that the modification or accommodation is necessary. For example, if you are in a wheelchair, you may need cabinets to be adjusted. It is better to have an adaptive equipment specialist, or other person knowledgeable about wheelchair accessibility, to verify how the cabinets should be changed. If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol but have been clean and sober for a year and you have been in treatment, you may want to get a letter from your substance abuse counselor that says that an accommodation is necessary, even though the counselor is not a physician.

When is a person with disabilities protected from discrimination?

You are protected from illegal housing discrimination at all stages, beginning with the advertisement of a unit through the time the security deposit should be returned or a claim for damages is made. Even if you did not disclose (or have) a disability at the time you first rented the unit, you may ask for a reasonable accommodation or modification whenever you need one.

How do state and federal laws define a "person with a disability"?

Both federal and state laws define a person with a disability as an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Those laws also protect those who have a record of such an impairment and those who are regarded (“perceived”) as having such an impairment.

Are alcoholism or drug addiction considered disabilities?

Alcoholism is considered a disability under state and federal law. Current use of illegal drugs is not considered a disability, and a company policy may prohibit employees from consuming or having alcohol or illegal drugs on company premises or from coming to work impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs. However, employees undergoing treatment for drug addiction are protected under both state and federal law.

Which conditions are excluded from the definition of "disability?"

Conditions that are not considered disabilities include pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism or other sexual behavior disorders, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, and pyromania.

Do the ADA and state disability laws require an employer to hire or place a person with a disability in a position?

No.  The ADA and state disability laws prohibit discrimination in hiring and placement against persons with disabilities who are qualified and who can perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodation. The employer must accommodate such individuals if such accommodation would not create an undue hardship or result in a direct threat to the employee or others.

What does "qualified" mean?

It means that the individual, with or without a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position. Due consideration is given to the employer’s determination as to the essential functions of a position, and a written position description will be considered evidence of the job’s essential functions.

How do you define "essential functions?"

Essential functions are those that are fundamental to accomplishing the job. Considerations in determining essential functions include: the time it takes to perform the function, the consequences of not performing the function, whether the position exists to perform that function, and whether there are other employees who can perform the function.

How is "reasonable accommodation" defined?

Reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that enables a person with a disability to apply for a job (i.e., holding a job interview in an accessible location); to perform the essential functions of a position (i.e., purchasing an amplifier to allow a hearing-impaired person to talk on the telephone); or to enjoy the same benefits and privileges of employment as other employees (i.e., holding a company function in a location accessible to all employees).

When does reasonable accommodation become unreasonable?

It becomes unreasonable if it would cause the employer an undue hardship. An undue hardship is an action that is significantly difficult or expensive in relation to the size of the employer, the resources available, and the nature of the business. Undue hardship is not a bright-line test. An employer that refuses an accommodation based on undue hardship should be prepared to prove that the accommodation would in fact create an undue hardship.

Are there limitations on the questions an employer may ask an applicant?

Yes. An employer may not ask if an applicant has a disability or inquire about the nature or severity of a disability. Employers may be liable if they ask questions that would elicit information about a disability (i.e., "How many times have you been sick in the last year?") Employers should focus inquiries on an applicant’s ability to perform job-related functions. Best practices include showing an applicant a copy of the position description and asking whether the applicant can perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation This question can be answered “yes” or “no” and does not solicit medical information.

May employers require an applicant to take a medical examination?

No. An employer cannot require a medical examination until after a job offer has been made. However, an employer may condition a job offer on the results of a post-offer medical examination if the employer requires all entering employees in the same job category to take the examination.

 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Reasonable Accommodations

If an employee asks for reasonable accommodation, may an employer require medical verification of the disability?

Yes. Upon receiving a request for reasonable accommodation, an employer may request additional information, including medical verification of the condition requiring accommodation.

The City also provides reasonable accommodations that do not impose undue hardship on the City to qualified applicants and employees with disabilities. Employees and applicants who require a reasonable accommodation should contact their department head and/or the Human Resources Department.

If I believe I have been illegally discriminated against, what can I do?

If you, a city employee, municipal elected official, committee member, or City-appointed volunteer/intern, believe there has been a suspected ethics violation including but not limited to; sexual harassment, unlawful harassment, discrimination, safety, etc by a city employee, municipal elected official, committee member, or city-appointed volunteer/intern, you may file an ONLINE Complaint Form; print, complete and mail in a Complaint Form (Hard Copy); or send by email LewReporting@lewistonmaine.gov.

If you, a city resident, believe there has been a suspected ethics violation ethics violation including but not limited to; sexual harassment, unlawful harassment, discrimination, safety, etc by a city employee, municipal elected official, committee member, or city-appointed volunteer/intern, you may file an ONLINE Complaint Form; print, complete and mail in a Complaint Form (Hard Copy); or send by email LewReporting@lewistonmaine.gov.

For all other complaints NOT involving a City employee, municipal elected official, committee member, or City volunteer/intern, please contact:

US Department of Justice
Maine Human Rights Commission
Disability Rights Center of Maine

Disclaimer:  This website is not intended as legal advice. Any responses to specific questions are based on the facts as we understand them by the American with Disabilities Act. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.