Celebrating 50 Years of Protection from Discrimination for People with Disabilities'

By: Allen Pinn, Policy Coordinator

On September 26, the Biden-Harris Administration commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the first time in American history that a federal law addressed the civil rights of individuals living with disabilities. This pivotal legislation became the cornerstone of future legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which also transformed the treatment of people with disabilities across the nation.

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from federal agencies are prohibited from discriminatory practices on the basis of disability. Section 504 also requires that information and communication technology is made accessible across federal agencies. Despite the great progress made in the last 50 years, people with disabilities still find areas where Section 504 and the ADA are violated. Recent examples where the Justice Department has intervened in the enforcement of Section 504 and/or the ADA include interactions with law enforcement, sidewalk/pedestrian signals accessibility, and online accessibility in colleges/universities.

On September 7, the Biden-Harris Administration proposed a rule which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. The proposed rule, Discrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities, would update Section 504 with new provisions that would clarify existing requirements under Section 504  including:

  • Ensuring that medical treatment decisions are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual will be a burden on others, or beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability;
  • Clarifying obligations for web, mobile, and kiosk accessibility;
  • Establishing enforceable standards for accessible medical equipment;
  • Clarifying requirements in HHS-funded child welfare programs and activities;
  • Prohibiting the use of value assessment methods that place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities when that method is used to limit access or to deny aids, benefits, and services; and
  • Clarifying obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

All comments on the proposed rule are due November 13.