Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act (Rehab Act) signed on September 26, 1973. The Rehab Act undoubtedly changed the lives of millions of people with disabilities, removing barriers and establishing protections that allowed for increased access and opportunities in federal employment and across society.
The Rehab Act has had an enduring impact over the five (5) decades following its enactment; it served as the foundation for future laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), as well as ushering in the Disability Rights Movement.
Here are a few ways the Rehab Act safeguards the civil rights of individuals with disabilities and fosters inclusion and equal opportunity in federal employment:
- Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies of the executive branch.
- Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000.
- 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.”
- Section 508 establishes the requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the federal government. Specifically, Section 508 requires federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.
- Reasonable accommodations are required to be provided by federal agencies to their employees and job applicants with disabilities. Agencies must also establish formal procedures to facilitate such accommodations.
- The U.S. Access Board was established to serve as an independent federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities and ensuring access to federally funded facilities.
While there is more work to be done for greater diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, it is clear that thanks to the Rehab Act, the federal government, the largest U.S. employer, has made tremendous progress toward becoming a model employer of individuals with disabilities.
Join us in celebrating its 50th anniversary this month by sharing stories of inclusion, supporting disability rights organizations, and advocating for accessible communities. Let us unite in our commitment to a world where everyone, regardless of ability, can pursue their dreams with pride and respect.
Learn about NIH’s reasonable accommodations process.
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