Chapter 8: Legal Rights and Legal Assistance Resources

Section 1: Disability Laws and Complaint Procedures

Subsection B: Rehabilitation Act

Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 prohibits disability-based discrimination in programs receiving federal financial assistance. Consequently, Section 504 applies to public schools and postsecondary school programs which receive federal dollars.

This law states that no otherwise qualified disabled individual in the United States shall, solely by reason of a disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

Under Section 504, public schools have an obligation to make their programs and facilities accessible to and usable by students, staff and other school participants who have disabilities. Thus a child's need for wheelchair accessible facilities, an assistive technology device or a change in class location might be addressed through Section 504. When a child with a disability does not qualify under IDEA because he/she does not need special education, a Section 504 Plan may be developed for the child to address any needs for accessibility, special equipment or school policy adjustments.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as amended) establishes a joint state-federal system of vocational rehabilitation and also prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, programs receiving federal financial assistance, in federal employment and in the employment practices of federal contractors. The Act also requires that electronic and information technology acquired by federal agencies be accessible to federal employees with disabilities and to persons with disabilities who are part of the public seeking information or services from federal agencies.

Rehabilitation Act, Section 501

Prohibits disability-based discrimination and requires affirmative action in federal employment. To file a complaint federal employees should contact their agency's EEO office.

Rehabilitation Act, Section 503

Prohibits disability discrimination and requires affirmative action by federal contractors and subcontractors with contracts above $10,000. For enforcement and complaint information contact:

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave. N.W.
Washington DC 20210

Rehabilitation Act, Section 504

Section 504 provides that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States ... shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service."

Disability is defined under Section 705(20) of the Rehabilitation Act and refers to any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.

Section 504 only affects entities which receive federal funds. In general, it prohibits employment discrimination based on disability, requires accessibility and requires an entity's programs and services to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Section 504 regulations issued by each federal department describe the types of discriminatory actions that are prohibited. They also outline the types of steps agencies and programs must take to ensure that their programs are accessible and do not discriminate.

How to File a Section 504 Complaint:
In general, 504 complaints should be filed with the federal agency which funds the program or activity where discrimination is alleged to have occurred. Complaint procedures are outlined in the 504 regulations of each federal department or agency. For information on how to file 504 complaints with the appropriate agency contact:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section - NYA
Washington, D.C. 20530

Or obtain complaint information by calling:
800-514-0301 Voice
800-514-0383 TTY
202-307-0663 Voice
202-307-1197 Fax

Rehabilitation Act, Section 508

Section 508 requires that Federal agencies must ensure comparable accessibility to persons with disabilities whenever that agency uses electronic or information technology, unless such access would impose an undue burden.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board ("Access Board"), in consultation with certain other government agencies and private organizations, is responsible for developing standards for complying with Section 508. These requirements will be incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulation ("FAR"). Federal agencies and departments must then revise their procurement policies to incorporate the new standards.

Filing A Section 508 Complaint:
If a Federal agency procures electronic and information technology that does not comply with the standards developed by the Access Board, it is subject to administrative complaints and private lawsuits by employees and members of the public. Agencies receiving administrative complaints must apply the complaint procedures established to implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act for resolving the allegations of discrimination. In private lawsuits, the rights and remedies of the parties are the same as in litigation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as it applies to federally conducted programs.