Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the federal law that approves grants to states  for vocational rehabilitation services, supported employment, independent living, and client assistance.  The Rehabilitation Act authorizes research activities that are administered by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the work of the National Council on Disability.  The Rehabilitation Act also includes a set of rules focused on rights, advocacy, and protections for people with disabilities.


Title I – Vocational Rehabilitation / Rehabilitation Services Agency

Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services help eligible people with disabilities pursue post-secondary education, employment, and independent living.  Services could include counseling, medical and psychological services, job training, and other services, based on the person’s needs. State VR programs are funded and overseen by the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration.

Related IssueEmployment

Title V – Rights and Advocacy

Section 501 – Federal Employment

Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires the federal government to actively hire and promote workers with disabilities.  The regulations for this law require the federal government to provide equal access to training and promotion opportunities, and reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities.  To file a complaint, federal employees should contact their agency’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.

Related IssueEmployment

Section 502 – Established the Access Board

Section 502 created the United States Access Board.  Their duties include: compliance with the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) standards, developing and maintaining guidelines, and promoting access.  

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expanded the Board’s mandate to include: developing the accessibility guidelines for facilities and transit vehicles covered by the law; providing technical assistance and training on these guidelines; and conducting research to support and maintain the guidelines.

The Board is also responsible for developing guidelines for accessible telecommunications products under Section 255 of the Communications Act. The Board is also responsible for developing accessibility standards for electronic and information technology for federal agency compliance under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 503 – Employers with Federal Contracts or Subcontracts

Section 503 requires federal government contractors (and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000) to actively hire people with disabilities and not discriminate against potential employees. 

For more information on Section 503, contact the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.

Section 504 – Federal Agencies and Federally-Funded Programs and Activities

Each federal agency has its own set of Section 504 rules that apply to its own programs.  Agencies that provide federal financial assistance also have section 504 rules covering entities that receive federal aid.  Requirements common to these rules include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and new construction and alterations to be accessible.

An example of a policy requiring the provision of qualified interpreters by federal agencies is the Social Security Administration Access Policy. If you experience issues with local Social Security offices refusing to provide interpreters or other accommodations, you can refer to SSA’s Access policy or contact the NAD.

Filing a Complaint under Section 504

Each federal agency is responsible for enforcing its own Section 504 rules.  Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. You don’t have to file a Section 504 complaint with a federal agency or receive a “right-to-sue” letter before going to court.

Contact the federal agency for more information on filing a complaint.  This is a list of federal agencies investigates disability discrimination complaints against federally funded programs that provide education, health care, housing, transportation, and other services.

You can also find out about filing Section 504 complaints by contacting the U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section

Section 508 – Electronic and Information Technology

Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, purchased, or used by the federal government.  Section 508 requires federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

For more information on Section 508, contact: