The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) And People with Disabilities in New Hampshire

Oce Harrison Ed.D.

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.


In 1990, the civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to ensure that people with disabilities could enjoy the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Shortly after the ADA was passed, Congress asked, “How will people understand this complex law?” The answer was to create 10 ADA Centers regionally located throughout the United States, to explain the law to the public. When you call the New England ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232, a live human being answers your ADA question confidentially and anonymously.

The ADA Centers provide information, guidance and training on the ADA to individuals, government and businesses at the state, regional and national levels.

Who has rights under the ADA? You May be Surprised

Twenty-eight years after the passage of the ADA, the nature and prevalence rate of people with disabilities have dramatically changed. Today, the ADA protects people with: diabetes, cancer, bi-polar and other impairments such as: addiction to alcohol, and people in recovery from substance use and opioid use disorder. The definition of disability under the ADA is very broad and most people are unaware of their civil rights under the ADA.

Definition of Disability under the ADA is:

  1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (current);
  2. a record of such impairment; (past) or;
  3. being regarded as having such an impairment

A person must meet only one part of the definition to be considered a person with a disability under the ADA.

Baby Boomers with Disabilities in New Hampshire

The changing nature and prevalence of people with disabilities is partly due to the predominance of baby boomers, especially found in New England and in New Hampshire (NH). With a population of 1.3 million people, NH is tied with Maine as the oldest state in the U.S. with a median age of 42.7 years—4.5 years older than the median age for the United States (37.2 years). New Hampshire is also 2.8 years older than the median age for New England (39.9). There is evidence that the incidence of disabilities increases with age.

In NH, baby boomers (ages 52-70) make up 31% of the state’s population while people 65 and older comprise 13.5% of the state’s population. It is estimated that in general, 26% of adults in New Hampshire have a disability, while baby boomer disability prevalence is between 21% and 31%, rising with age. Keep in mind this data is based on people self-reporting a functional limitation on a survey from US Census’ American Community survey (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014).

Cities and Towns Have Obligations under the ADA

Access to civic life by people with disabilities is a fundamental goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act. State and local governments have obligations under Title II of the ADA to provide people with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in all services, programs and activities. Twenty-eight years after the passage of the ADA, there has been important progress. But the vision of ‘maximum community participation’ is far from met.

Cash strapped cities and towns have many challenges to implementing the ADA. To make it easier for State and Local Governments to understand their responsibilities under Title II of the ADA, the New England ADA Center created free on-line tools for municipalities. These tools explain the ADA in plain language and guide municipalities through a process of compliance: ADA Action Guide for State and Local Governments (, and the ADA Checklist for Existing Facilities (

A Survey to Identify Challenges to Implementing the ADA in Cities and Towns in New Hampshire and Innovative Solutions

To help us understand the challenges to implementing the ADA, a five minute digital survey will be sent to cities and towns across New England in June. With your help the New England ADA Center would like to know more about your experiences with the ADA for us to develop ways to make ADA implementation easier.

People with Disabilities Living in Manchester

Manchester is the most populated city in New Hampshire with 26% of its population self-reporting a disability (see chart below). The data below is intended to help inform and educate local officials about the state of disability in their jurisdictions. Leadership can then make decisions to actively work toward creating an accessible community for the people who live in their community. Also, the implementation of the ADA lays the foundation for the Age Friendly Cities movement’s commitment to actively work toward making municipalities a welcoming community for all ages and abilities.

It is interesting to note is that people with mental health disabilities rank higher (13%), while people using wheelchairs are the lowest percentage of people with disabilities in New Hampshire (1.3%).

Chart 1: Percentage of Adults with Disabilities in Manchester

This next two charts shows types of disabilities by age in Manchester.

Chart 2: Percentage of Disability by Age in Manchester

Chart 3: Percent of People with Sensory Disabilities by Age in Manchester

For people with disabilities, community participation is a critical aspect of continued health and especially for baby boomers as they age. It becomes important to understand the rights afforded to people who experience disabilities to access their communities; and responsibilities of governments to implement the ADA to afford those rights.

To learn more about rights and responsibilities under the ADA, contact the New England ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232, or us, or visit

Oce Harrison is Project Director with IHCD and can be reached at 617-695-1225, x227 or at

About The New England ADA Center

The New England ADA Center is one of 10 ADA Centers regionally located across the US comprising the ADA National Network. Since 1991, the ADA National Network has provided information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet the needs of individuals, businesses and government. We explain rights and responsibilities under the ADA via a toll-free (1-800-949-4232). We promote voluntary compliance of the ADA and do not enforce the law, we are educators.

The Center subcontracts with an organization in each New England state. In New Hampshire, the ADA Center’s State Affiliate is the New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disability.

The New England ADA Center is grant funded by US Health and Human Services through the Admiration for Community Living and National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Grant #90DP0087.

About the Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD)

The Institute for Human Centered Design (IHCD) is home to the New England ADA Center. IHCD is an international education and design non-profit organization committed to advancing the role of design in expanding opportunity and enhancing experience for people of all ages, abilities and cultures through excellence in design.

IHCD works with cities and towns across the United States to develop ADA Self-Assessment and Transition Plans in compliance with Federal standards and state code but also identifying opportunities for inclusive/universal design. We are deep content experts in both accessibility and universal/inclusive design. Call (1-617-695-1225) or visit

Glossary of Terms: American Community Survey

Mental Disability: Has a mental, emotional, or neurological condition that impairs functioning. Includes Alzheimer's disease, intellectual disabilities, autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, trouble with anxiety, concentrating, coping with stress, and getting along with others.

Upper body limitations: Has difficulty reaching, lifting, grasping, or pushing/pulling.

Use Canes, crutches, walker: Uses a cane, crutches or walker.

Use Wheelchair: Uses a wheelchair, electric scooter, or similar aid for getting around.

Significant Disability: Primarily difficulty with at least one task/function such that they cannot perform the task at all. Presence of certain mental conditions also qualifies as a severe disability. Long lasting.


Brault, MW (2008), Americans with Disabilities: 2010, Current Population Reports P-131, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.

U.S. Census Bureau, 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation, Public Use Microdata.

U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014 American Community Survey, Public Use Microdata