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The Rehabilitation Act

The Rehabilitation Act is recognized as the first federal civil rights law protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. Signed October 1, 1973, this law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. Section 504 of the legislation provides that “No qualified person with a disability shall, solely by reason of his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” [1]

[1] From the text of Section 504, accessed July 12, 2001, at http://americanhistory.si.edu/disabilityrights/.

The Evolution of Section 504

Originally, Section 504 was intended to prevent discrimination in employment. By the time the Section 504 rules and regulations went into effect on April 28, 1977; however, a series of amendments extended their coverage to all areas of civil rights, including education, employment, health, welfare, and other social service programs.


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