Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is the federal law that authorizes the formula grant programs for vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, independent living, and client assistance.  It also authorizes a variety of training and service discretionary grants administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration.  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 variety of provisions focused on rights, advocacy and protections for individuals with disabilities.


Title I – Vocational Rehabilitation / Rehabilitation Services Agency

Vocational rehabilitation (VR) services help eligible persons with a disability pursue post-secondary education, employment, and independent living.  Services could include counseling, medical and psychological services, job training, and other services, based on the needs of the individual.  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 practice affirmative action to hire and to promote workers with disabilities.  The regulations for this law require the federal government to provide equal access to training and promotion opportunities, and to make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities.  Section 501 also requires the federal government to practice affirmative action to hire and to promote workers who have a disability, including workers who are deaf or hard of hearing.

To obtain more information or 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, originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board.  Section 502 lays out the duties of the Board under the Architectural Barriers Act (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.  Section 502 also outlines the membership and composition of the Board.

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.  In addition, the Board is 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 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, N.W.
Room C-3325
Washington, D.C. 20210
(202) 693-0106 (voice/relay)

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

“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.”  29 U.S.C. § 794(a).

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.

An example of one policy requiring the provision of qualified interpreters is the Social Security Administration Access Policy.

See also LaCheen, Cary, “Improving Remote Communication Between Public Benefits Agencies and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals,” Clearinghouse Review, Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, Vol. 43, Nos. 9-10, 431-439 (2001).

Filing a Complaint under Section 504

Each federal agency is responsible for enforcing its own Section 504 regulations.  Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits.  It is not necessary to file a Section 504 complaint with a federal agency or to receive a “right-to-sue” letter before going to court.

You can find out about the procedures for filing a Section 504 complaint by contacting the federal agency for more information.  See for a list of federal agencies that investigate 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:

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Disability Rights Section – NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TTY)

Section 508 – Electronic and Information Technology

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 people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

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 audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  For more information on Section 508, 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)

U.S. Access Board
1331 F Street, N.W., Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1111
800-872-2253 (voice)
800-993-2822 (TTY)