A Guide to Disability Rights Laws

October 1, 1996

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Americans with Disabilities Act 1
Fair Housing Act 5
Air Carrier Access Act 6
Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act 7
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 7
Rehabilitation Act 8
Architectural Barriers Act 9
Other Sources of Disability Rights Information 9

This guide provides an overview of Federal civil rights laws that ensure equal opportunity for people
with disabilities. To find out more about how these laws may apply to you, contact the agencies and
organizations listed below.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local
government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.
It also applies to the United States Congress.
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an
individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has
a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person
who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having
such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
ADA Title I: Employment
Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities
an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to
others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social
activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an
applicant's disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable
accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with
disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. Religious entities with 15 or more employees are
covered under title I.
Title I complaints must be filed with the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
within 180 days of the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the charge is filed with a designated
State or local fair employment practice agency. Individuals may file a lawsuit in Federal court only
after they receive a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC.
Charges of employment discrimination on the basis of disability may be filed at any U.S. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission field office. Field offices are located in 50 cities throughout the
U.S. and are listed in most telephone directories under "U.S. Government." For the appropriate
EEOC field office in your geographic area, call:
(800) 669-4000 (voice)
(800) 669-6820 (TDD)
Information on EEOC-enforced laws may be obtained by calling:
(800) 669-EEOC (voice)
(800) 800-3302 (TDD)
For information on how to accommodate a specific individual with a disability, call the Job
Accommodation Network at:
(800) 526-7234 (voice/TDD)
(800) ADA-WORK (voice/TDD)
ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity's size
or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with
disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g.
public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting,
and town meetings).
State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new
construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide
access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing,
vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue
financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies,
practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that
doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.
Complaints of title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the
date of discrimination. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored
by the Department. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has
been unable to resolve violations. For more information or to file a complaint, contact:
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
You may also call (800) 514-0301 (voice)
for information at: (800) 514-0383 (TDD)
Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a
complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) or any other Federal agency, or to receive a
"right-to-sue" letter, before going to court.
ADA Title II: Public Transportation
The transportation provisions of title II cover public transportation services, such as city buses and
public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak). Public transportation authorities may not
discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services. They must comply with
requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or
lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result
in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems.
Paratransit is a service where individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system
independently (because of a physical or mental impairment) are picked up and dropped off at their
destinations. Questions and complaints about public transportation should be directed to:
Federal Transit Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
Documents (202) 366-1656 (voice)
and Questions: (202) 366-4567 (TDD)
Legal Questions: (202) 366-1936 (voice/relay) (202) 366-9306 (voice)
(202) 755-7687 (TDD)
Complaints and (202) 366-2285 (voice)
Enforcement: (202) 366-0153 (TDD)
ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately
operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated
transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease,
lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools,
convention centers, doctors' offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes,
day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Transportation
services provided by private entities are also covered by title III.
Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit
exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements
related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies,
practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech
disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove
barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the
public accommodation's resources.
Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or trade-related applications,
licensing, certifications, or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people
with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered.
Commercial facilities, such as factories and warehouses, must comply with the ADA's architectural
standards for new construction and alterations.
Complaints of title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice. In certain situations,
cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department is
authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of title
III, or where an act of discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Title III may also
be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of
Justice (or any Federal agency), or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter, before going to court. For more
information or to file a complaint, contact:
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
You may also call (800) 514-0301 (voice)
for information at: (800) 514-0383 (TDD)
ADA Title IV: Telecommunications
Title IV addreses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It
requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate
telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with
hearing and speech disabilities who use text telephones (TTY's or TDD's), and callers who use
voice telephones, to communicate with each other through a third party communications assistant.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum standards for TRS services. Title
IV also requires closed captioning of Federally funded public service announcements. For more
information about TRS, contact the FCC at:
Federal Communications Commission
1919 M Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20554
Documents (202) 418-0190 (voice)
and questions: (202) 418-2555 (TDD)
Legal Questions: (202) 418-2357 (voice)
(202) 418-0484 (TDD)
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race,
color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. Its coverage includes private housing,
housing that receives Federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing. It is
unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or
renter because of the disability of that individual, an individual associated with the buyer or renter, or
an individual who intends to live in the residence. Other covered activities include, for example,
financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising.
The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their
policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a
landlord with a "no pets" policy may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an
individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence. The Fair Housing Act also requires
landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their
private living space, as well as to common use spaces. (The landlord is not required to pay for the
changes.) The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed
and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas,
doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a
wheelchair to maneuver, and other adaptable features within the units.
Complaints of Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development. For more information or to file a complaint, contact:
Office of Program Compliance and Disability Rights
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
451 7th Street, SW (Room 5242)
Washington, D.C. 20140
You may also call the Fair Housing Information Clearinghouse at:
(800) 343-3442 (voice)
(800) 483-2209 (TDD)
Additionally, the Department of Justice can file cases involving a pattern or practice of discrimination.
The Fair Housing Act may also be enforced through private lawsuits.
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air transportation by air carriers against
qualified individuals with physical or mental impairments. It applies only to air carriers that provide
regularly scheduled services for hire to the public. Requirements address a wide range of issues
including boarding assistance and certain accessibility features in newly built aircraft and new or
altered airport facilities. People may enforce rights under the Air Carrier Access Act by filing a
complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation, or by bringing a lawsuit in Federal court. For
more information or to file a complaint contact:
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-4648 (voice)
(202) 366-8538 (TDD)
You may also contact:
Aviation Consumer Protection Division, C-75
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-2220 (voice)
(202) 755-7687 (TDD)
Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
The Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA) authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to
investigate conditions of confinement at State and local government institutions such as prisons, jails,
pretrial detention centers, juvenile correctional facilities, publicly operated nursing homes, and
institutions for people with psychiatric or developmental disabilities. Its purpose is to allow the
Attorney General to uncover and correct widespread deficiencies that seriously jeopardize the health
and safety of residents of nstitutions. The Attorney General does not have authority under CRIPA to
investigate isolated incidents or to represent individual institutionalized persons.
The Attorney General may initiate civil law suits where there is reasonable cause to believe that
conditions are "egregious or flagrant," that they are subjecting residents to "grievous harm," and that
they are part of a "pattern or practice" of resistance to residents' full enjoyment of constitutional or
Federal rights, including title II of the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. For more
information or to bring a matter to the Department of Justice's attention, contact:
Special Litigation Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66400
Washington, D.C. 20035-6400
(202) 514-6255 (voice/relay)
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the
Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all
eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment
appropriate to their individual needs.
IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs
(IEP's) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect
the individualized needs of each student.
IDEA also mandates that particular procedures be followed in the development of the IEP. Each
student's IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be at least reviewed
annually. The team includes the child's teacher; the parents, subject to certain limited exceptions; the
child, if determined appropriate; an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the
provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents' or agency's discretion.
If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from
the State educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the State agency's
decision to State or Federal court. For more information, contact:
Office of Special Education Programs
U.S. Department of Education
330 C Street, S.W. (Room 3086)
Washington, D.C. 20202
(202) 205-5507 (voice)
(202) 205-9754 (TDD)
Rehabilitation Act
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by
Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in
the employment practices of Federal contractors. The standards for determining employment
discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in title I of the Americans with
Disabilities Act.
Section 501
Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of
the executive branch. To obtain more information or to file a complaint, employeesshould contact
their agency's Equal Employment Opportunity Office.
Section 503
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 Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20210
(202) 219-9423 (voice/relay)
Section 504
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 or the United
States Postal Service.
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. Each
agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through
private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a
"right-to-sue" letter before going to court.
For information on how to file 504 complaints with the appropriate agency, contact:
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
P.O. Box 66738
Washington, D.C. 20035-6738
(800) 514-0301 (voice)
(800) 514-0383 (TDD)
Architectural Barriers Act
The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) requires that buildings and facilities that are designed,
constructed, or altered with Federal funds, or leased by a Federal agency, comply with Federal
standards for physical accessibility. ABA requirements are limited to architectural standards in new
and altered buildings and in newly leased facilities. They do not address the activities conducted in
those buildings and facilities. Facilities of the U.S. Postal Service are covered by the ABA. For more
information or to file a complaint, contact:
The U.S. Architectural and Transportation
Barriers Compliance Board
1331 F Street, N.W. (Suite 1000)
Washington, D.C. 20004-1111
(800) 872-2253 (voice)
(800) 993-2822 (TDD)
Other Sources of Disability Rights Information
Regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers:
(800) 949-4232 (voice/TDD)
U.S. Department of Justice Internet Home Page:
http://www.usdoj.gov/crt
U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act Internet Home Page:
http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/adahom1.htm