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Disability Rights Laws - Overview

 

Image of U.S. Capitol dome, illuminated at night.This topic provides a brief description of the purposes and provisions of some of the most significant Federal legislation related to the rights of people with disabilities. Because of the interrelated nature of many benefits programs, both with respect to each other as well as to legislation, a description or explanation of one often references the other.

This topic is intended to offer the casual user a simple explanation of the various legislative acts, along with sources for additional information and citations for reference. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, as that is well beyond the scope of this topic.

You may read through the topic or jump to specific sections by using the links to sections of this topic below.

Links to Sections of this topic:

           Americans with Disabilities Act

           Telecommunications Act

           Fair Housing Act

           Air Carrier Access Act

           Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act

           National Voter Registration Act

           Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act

           Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

           Rehabilitation Act of 1973

           Architectural Barriers Act

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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Additional Information

Extensive, detailed information about the ADA, explanations of the provisions in each of its Titles, complaint procedures and contact information, and additional resource information may be found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) topic.

Statute Citations

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.

Implementing Regulations:
29 CFR Parts 1630, 1602 (Title I, EEOC)
28 CFR Part 35 (Title II, Department of Justice)
49 CFR Parts 27, 37, 38 (Title II, III, Department of Transportation)
28 CFR Part 36 (Title III, Department of Justice)
47 CFR 64.601 et seq. (Title IV, FCC)

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Telecommunications Act

Section 255 and Section 251(a)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. These amendments ensure that people with disabilities will have access to a broad range of products and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services, that were often inaccessible to many users with disabilities.

Additional Information

For more information, contact:

Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554

(888) 225-5322 (Voice)
(888) 835-5322 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/

Statute Citations

Telecommunications Act of 1996
47 U.S.C. 255, 251(a)(2)

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Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. Its coverage includes private housing, housing that receives Federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing. It is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that individual, an individual associated with the buyer or renter, or an individual who intends to live in the residence. Other covered activities include, for example, financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising.

The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a landlord with a "no pets" policy may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence. The Fair Housing Act also requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces. (The landlord is not required to pay for the changes.) The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to maneuver, and other adaptable features within the units.

Complaints of Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additionally, the Department of Justice can file cases involving a pattern or practice of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act may also be enforced through private lawsuits.

Additional Information

For more information or to file a complaint, contact:

Office of Program Compliance and Disability Rights
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, S.W. , Room 5242
Washington, D.C. 20140

(800) 669-9777 (voice)
(800) 927-9275 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/index.cfm

For questions about the Fair Housing Act, you may call the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity at:

(202) 708-2333 (voice)
(202) 401-1247 (TTY)

For publications, you may contact the Housing and Urban Development Client Information and Policy System at:

(301) 519-5395 (voice)
(301) 947-8666 (FAX)

Internet: http://www.hudclips.org/cgi/index.cgi

NOTE: HUD also operates a special website that pulls together information from all parts of its website that is of particular interest to people with disabilities. You can find it at: http://www.hud.gov/groups/disabilities.cfm

Statute Citations

Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988
42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.

Implementing Regulation:
24 CFR Parts 100 et seq.

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Air Carrier Access Act

The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation by domestic and foreign air carriers against qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments. It applies only to air carriers that provide regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. Requirements address a wide range of issues including boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or altered airport facilities. People may enforce rights under the Air Carrier Access Act by filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, or by bringing a lawsuit in Federal court.

Additional Information

For more information or to file a complaint, contact:

Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Room 4107, C-75
Washington, D.C. 20590

(202) 366-2220 (voice)
(202) 366-0511 (TTY)

Internet: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/

NOTE: With the various types of security personnel and law enforcement officials at and around airports now, there is increased confusion regarding the appropriate place to file discrimination complaints. The Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings has prepared an information sheet to help consumers determine with whom to file a discrimination complaint and how to do so. This information, entitled "Air Travel Civil Rights Problems - Where to File Complaints" is available on the Internet at: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/DiscrimComplaintsContacts.htm.

Statute Citations

Air Carrier Access Act of 1986
49 U.S.C. 41705

Implementing Regulation:
14 CFR Part 382

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Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act

The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 generally requires polling places across the United States to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, a political subdivision must provide an alternate means of casting a ballot on the day of the election. This law also requires states to make available registration and voting aids for disabled and elderly voters, including information by telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs).

Additional Information

For more information, or to file a complaint contact:

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

(800) 253-3931 (voice/TTY)

Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/

Statute Citations

Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984
42 U.S.C. 1973ee et seq.

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National Voter Registration Act

The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the "Motor Voter Act," makes it easier for all Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. One of the basic purposes of the Act is to increase the historically low registration rates of minorities and persons with disabilities that have resulted from discrimination. The Motor Voter Act requires all offices of State-funded programs that are primarily engaged in providing services to persons with disabilities to provide all program applicants with voter registration forms, to assist them in completing the forms, and to transmit completed forms to the appropriate State official.

Additional Information

For more information, or to file a complaint contact:

Chief, Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
Room 7254 - NWB
Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20530

(800) 253-3931 (voice/TTY)

Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/

The DOJ also offers detailed information about the NVRA along with examples of enforcement actions taken at: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting/nvra/activ_nvra.htm.

Statute Citations

National Voter Registration Act of 1993
42 U.S.C. 1973gg et seq.

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Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act

The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to investigate conditions of confinement at State and local government institutions such as prisons, jails, pretrial detention centers, juvenile correctional facilities, publicly operated nursing homes, and institutions for people with psychiatric or developmental disabilities. Its purpose is to allow the Attorney General to uncover and correct widespread deficiencies that seriously jeopardize the health and safety of residents of institutions.

The statute does not cover private facilities or Federal institutions. The Attorney General does not have authority under CRIPA to investigate isolated incidents or to represent individual institutionalized persons.

The Attorney General may initiate civil law suits where there is reasonable cause to believe that conditions are "egregious or flagrant," that they are subjecting residents to "grievous harm," and that they are part of a "pattern or practice" of resistance to residents' full enjoyment of constitutional or Federal rights, including Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Additional Information

For more information or to bring a matter to the Department of Justice's attention, contact the Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section using the contact information below.

The most effective means of filing a complaint is to write a letter to the Section explaining the situation about which you are complaining, with as much detail as possible. If you are aware of similar incidents involving others, include that information as well. Include information on how to contact you if the Section needs further information (such as an address and telephone number). Also, do not include original documents, as the Section cannot guarantee their safe return. Address all complaints to:

Special Litigation Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66400
Washington, D.C. 20035-6400

(202) 514-6255 (voice/TTY)
(202) 514-6273 (FAX)

Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/split/

Statute Citations

Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
42 U.S.C. 1997 et seq.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs. It is the primary law governing Special Education Policy in the United States.

IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEP's) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect the individualized needs of each student.

IDEA also mandates that particular procedures be followed in the development of the IEP. Each student's IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be at least reviewed annually. The team includes the child's teacher; the parents, subject to certain limited exceptions; the child, if determined appropriate; an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents' or agency's discretion.

If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from the State educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the State agency's decision to State or Federal court.

Additional Information

The Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) assists states with implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As part of its mission, OSEP is charged with developing, communicating and disseminating federal policy on early intervention services to infants and toddlers with disabilities and on the provision of special education and related services for children with disabilities. For more information, contact:

Office of Special Education Programs
U.S. Department of Education
330 C Street, S.W. (Room 3086)
Washington, D.C. 20202

(202) 205-5507 (voice/TTY)

Internet: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/index.html

A revised version of the final IDEA Regulations in several formats, as well as a list of additional ways to obtain the final regulations may be found at: http://www.ed.gov/policy/speced/reg/regulations.html.

OSEP supports four IDEA partnership projects designed to share information, knowledge and best practices to key audiences interested in creating or producing positive educational results for children with disabilities. Two of these partnerships represent Families (FAPE) and Policymakers (PMP). The other two partnerships, ASPIIRE (Service Providers) and ILIAD (Administrators), produce a website for the dissemination of information about IDEA and these partnerships. IDEA materials are available from it in many formats, including paper, CD, online document, audio cassette, etc. Additionally, the law and its associated regulations are available in several different formats, including enhanced versions that take full advantage of the linking capabilities of the web. Visit this site at: http://www.ideapractices.org/.

Statute Citations

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.

Implementing Regulation:
34 CFR Part 300

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Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) Program was established by Congress as a national program in 1993 amendments to the Act. PAIR programs were established to protect and advocate for the legal and human rights of persons with disabilities.

Summaries of other specific sections of the Act that have particular relevance to people with disabilities are provided below.

Section 501

Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the executive branch. To obtain more information or to file a complaint, employees should contact their agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

Section 502

Several years after the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) had become law, Congress observed that compliance had been uneven and that no initiatives to create Federal design standards for accessibility were underway. Clearly, one central agency needed to take charge of enforcing the ABA and ensuring development of design standards. The concept of such an agency began to take shape as Congress considered the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 502 of this law created the Access Board, originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. The Board was charged with ensuring Federal agency compliance with the ABA and proposing solutions to the environmental barriers problems addressed in the ABA. Congress was clear in its intent that compliance be the primary essence of the Board's function.

Section 502 lays out the duties of the Board under the ABA, which include: ensuring compliance with standards issued under the ABA, developing and maintaining guidelines upon which the standards are based, and promoting access throughout all segments of society. This section of the law also outlines the membership and composition of the Board, which includes the heads (or their designees whose positions are executive level IV or higher) of 12 Cabinet-level Departments and Agencies and 13 members of the general public, at least a majority of whom must be people with disabilities. Contact the Access Board at:

The Access Board
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111

(800) 872-2253 (voice)
(800) 993-2822 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.access-board.gov/index.htm

Section 503

Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000. For more information on Section 503, contact:

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Room C-3325
Washington, D.C. 20210

(202) 693-0106 (voice/relay)

Internet: http://www.dol.gov/esa/ofccp/index.htm

Section 504

Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service.

Each Federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive Federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter before going to court.

For information on how to file Section 504 complaints with the appropriate agency, contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section - NYAVE
Washington, D.C. 20530

(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)
(202) 307-1198 (FAX)

Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/

Section 508

Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to and usable by Federal employees and also to members of the public with disabilities seeking information or services from Federal agencies.

An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508.

The Center for Information Technology Accommodation (CITA), in the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy, has been charged with the task of educating Federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation. CITA has created a special Section 508 website. By using the web site below, Federal employees and the public can access resources for understanding and implementing the requirements of Section 508. For more information, contact:

U.S. General Services Administration
Center for IT Accommodation (CITA)
1800 F Street, N.W.,
Room 1234, MC:MKC
Washington, DC 20405-0001

(202) 501-4906 (voice)
(202) 501-2010 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.section508.gov/

The U.S. Access Board is an independent Federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. The Board is responsible for developing accessibility standards for technology covered under Section 508 for incorporation into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices. The net result will be that Federal agencies will have to purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible except where it would cause an "undue burden." Contact the Access Board at:

The Access Board
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111

(800) 872-2253 (voice)
(800) 993-2822 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.access-board.gov/index.htm

Additional Information

The entire contents of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, is available on the Internet at: http://www.access-board.gov/enforcement/Rehab-Act-text/intro.htm

Statute Citations

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
29 U.S.C. 791

Implementing Regulation:
29 CFR 1614.203

Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
29 U.S.C. 792

Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
29 U.S.C. 793

Implementing Regulation:
41 CFR Part 60-741

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
29 U.S.C. 794

Over 20 Implementing Regulations for federally assisted programs, including:
34 CFR Part 104 (Department of Education)
45 CFR Part 84 (Department of Health and Human Services)
28 CFR 42.501 et seq.

Over 95 Implementing Regulations for federally conducted programs, including:
28 CFR Part 39 (Department of Justice)

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended
29 U.S.C. 794d

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Architectural Barriers Act

The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) requires that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, or altered with Federal funds, or leased by a Federal agency, comply with Federal standards for physical accessibility. ABA requirements are limited to architectural standards in new and altered buildings and in newly leased facilities. They do not address the activities conducted in those buildings and facilities. Facilities of the U.S. Postal Service are covered by the ABA.

Additional Information

For more information or to file a complaint, contact:

The Access Board
1331 F Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111

(800) 872-2253 (voice)
(800) 993-2822 (TTY)

Internet: http://www.access-board.gov/index.htm

Statute Citations

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
42 U.S.C. 4151 et seq.

Implementing Regulations:
41 CFR Subpart 101-19.6

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See also:

Federal Laws Prohibiting Job Discrimination

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) - Overview

Job Applicants and the ADA

Employment Rights and the ADA

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (DD Act)


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