The Rehabilitation Act, introduced as H.R. 8070 by Representative John Brandemas (D-IN) and S. 1875 by Senator Randolph Jennings (D-WV), was signed by President Richard Nixon on September 26, 1973. The Rehabilitation Act provides protections and services for people with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Act extended civil rights to people with disabilities through its Section 504:
“ … no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the U.S. …shall solely by reason of her or his disability be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Section 504 applies to all federal agencies, federally funded projects, schools from kindergarten through the 12th grade, state colleges, universities, and vocational training programs.
The Act established the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (later the Department of Health and Human Services). Today, the Department of Education administers the Act. RSA oversees the Title I formula grant program that provides funds to state vocational rehabilitation agencies that in turn provide employment-related services to individuals with physical and mental disabilities
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 attempted to address some of the societal barriers encountered by people with disabilities. For example, people with disabilities were often isolated from society by placement in institutions. People with disabilities contended with limited access to buildings and facilities due to physical barriers. In addition, schools were allowed to refuse to enroll disabled students who local administrators deemed uneducable, or disabled students were segregated within the education system, ostensibly to receive individualized attention.
Principal sections of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 include:
- Section 501 focuses on the federal government's hiring practices.
- Section 502 created the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB) to enforce standards set by the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968.
- Section 503 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of physical or mental disability by businesses with federal contracts or their subcontractors.
- Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability in programs receiving federal funds. This section also established the Client Assistance Demonstration Projects (CAPs) to inform and advise people with disabilities about all available benefits under the Rehabilitation Act. Amendments in 1984 extended CAPs to each state. This section also established, by statute, the Rehabilitation Services Administration.
- Section 508 addresses issues related to access to communication and computer technology.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 provided:
- Title VII comprehensive services for independent living, such as information and referral, counseling, job placement, health, education, recreation, and social services.
- Centers for Independent Living, which are community-based, cross-disability, non-residential, private nonprofit agencies designed and operated by people with disabilities providing an array of independent living services.
- Independent Living Services for Older Blind Individuals.
- Protection and Advocacy of Individual Rights, a system in each state designed to protect the legal and human rights of individuals with disabilities.
- Vocation rehabilitation service grants to Native American tribes.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 defined and established supportive employment as an acceptable goal. Supportive employment is competitive employment in an integrated setting, or employment in integrated work settings in which individuals are working toward competitive employment with ongoing support services for those with the most significant disabilities. The amendment provided grants for special projects and demonstrations in supportive employment, established a program to assist state agencies to develop and implement supportive employment services, and added rehabilitation engineering as a vocational rehabilitation service.
The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1992 emphasized employment as the primary goal of rehabilitation. The amendment assumed that applicants were employable unless proven otherwise. The amendment also ensured that individuals must be provided choice and control in establishing their vocational rehabilitation goals and objectives.
Edwin W. Martin, et.al, “The Legislative and Litigation History of Special Education”, The
Future of Children, (Spring 1996) pg 26-27, https://www.princeton.edu/futureofchildren/publications/docs/06_01_01.pdf
Frequently Asked Questions about Section 504 and the Education of Children with Disabilities, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html
Department of Health and Human Services Fact Sheet, Your Rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, (June, 2006) http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/civilrights/resources/factsheets/504.pdf
The Rehabilitation Act, Public Law 93-112, https://archive.org/stream/publiclaw931129300unit#page/n1/mode/2up
U.S. Department of Justice, Guide to Disability Rights Law, http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm
Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services Amendments of 1978, Cornell University http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1152&context=gladnetcollect)
U.S. Department of Education, Programs, Centers for Independent Living, http://www2.ed.gov/programs/cil/index.html
Independent Living Services for Older Blind Individuals, Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance https://www.cfda.gov/index?s=program&mode=form&tab=core&id=4fd0bbabbe63be596176dd75af6d905b
Protection and Advocacy of Individuals, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University, http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/29/794e