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Office for Civil Rights

Civil Rights on the Basis of Disability

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is responsible for enforcing the nondiscrimination requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 as they apply to covered entities under the jurisdiction of OCR (see the list of examples of such entities below).

  • OCR's jurisdiction under Section 504 includes entities that conduct programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance from DHHS, and to activities conducted by DHHS.
  • OCR's enforcement authority under Section 508 covers public access to information technology provided by DHHS.
  • OCR's jurisdiction under Title II of the ADA covers all of the health and social services, programs, and activities conducted by public entities (state and local governments, departments, agencies, etc.), including licensing.
  • See a list of civil rights offices for other Federal agencies.

Your Rights

Section 504 and the ADA protect qualified individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the provision of benefits or services or the conduct of programs or activities of covered entities on the basis of their disability. See the Fact Sheets and the regulations below for an explanation of “qualified individual with a disability” and more detailed information.

Covered entities must not:

  • Establish eligibility criteria for receipt of services or participation in programs or activities that screen out or tend to screen out individuals with disabilities, unless such criteria are necessary to meet the objectives of the program.
  • Provide separate or different benefits, services, or programs to individuals with disabilities, unless it is necessary to ensure that the benefits and services are equally effective.

Covered entities must:

  • Provide services and programs in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • Make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless it would result in a fundamental alteration in their program or activity.
  • Ensure that buildings are accessible.
  • Provide auxiliary aids to individuals with disabilities, at no additional cost, where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments.

Section 508 requires that when Federal agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, they shall ensure that the electronic and information technology allows Federal employees with disabilities to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency. Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

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Fact Sheets

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Regulations

  • 45 CFR Part 84: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - Nondiscrimination on the basis of Disability in the provision of benefits or services or the conduct of programs or activities by Recipients of Federal financial assistance from DHHS [PDF - 291K] [DOC - 76K]
  • 45 CFR Part 85: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - Nondiscrimination on the basis of Disability in DHHS Conducted Activities.
  • 36 CFR Part 1193: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – Guidelines.
  • 36 CFR Part 1194: Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - final accessibility standards for electronic and information technology covered by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • 28 CFR PART 35: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act -Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in State and Local Government Services

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Examples of Civil Rights Complaint Resolutions


  • Schenectady County Department of Social Services (SCDSS), Schenectady, New York(Resolved on November 18, 2008) - OCR secured a signed Voluntary Resolution Agreement which resolves a disability discrimination complaint against SCDSS, a social services agency serving the 150,818 residents of Schenectady County, one of the fastest growing counties in upstate New York. The complainant, who has a mobility impairment and walks with a cane, reported that structural barriers make SCDSS's offices at 487 Nott Street and 104 Erie Boulevard inaccessible to individuals with physical disabilities; and that SCDSS had failed to designate an employee to coordinate its compliance efforts under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II of the ADA). After receiving the complaint, OCR's Region II New York office conducted a thorough investigation, including surveys of the SCDSS offices to identify architectural barriers. OCR and SCDSS established the following objectives under the agreement: (1) physical accessibility of SCDSS' new 797 Broadway office, which is currently being constructed to be a fully accessible office space free of architectural barriers; (2) structural modifications at SCDSS' existing 104 Erie Boulevard office to ensure the physical accessibility of its parking lot, entrance doors and public restroom; (3) the implementation of interim procedures to ensure program accessibility at SCDSS' existing 487 Nott Street office, including establishing a dedicated telephone line so that individuals with disabilities can be served, if possible, within 24 hours and posting outside signage with the telephone number and a statement that services are available at other locations; (4) a notice informing consumers of their rights and responsibilities under Section 504 and/or Title II of the ADA be developed and distributed; (5) establishment and publishing of procedures for consumers to file grievances alleging disability discrimination under Section 504 and/or Title II of the ADA; (6) the appointment of a senior SCDSS staff member to coordinate its compliance efforts under Section 504 and/or Title II of the ADA, train SCDSS employees on approaches to prevent and/or address disability discrimination, and respond timely to grievances filed by consumers alleging disability discrimination; and (7) the provision of regular compliance reports by SCDSS to OCR for the one year term of the agreement. Read the SCDSS AgreementRead the Press Release

  • Scottsdale Healthcare – Osborn (SHO)(Resolved on February 7, 2008) - OCR secured a signed Resolution Agreement that resolves a disability discrimination complaint against SHO, a 337-bed hospital and trauma center, serving 150,000 patients each year in Scottsdale, Arizona. The complainant, who has severe hearing loss, reported that she was denied a sign language interpreter when treated in the SHO emergency room and intensive care unit. After receiving her complaint, OCR's Region IX office conducted an investigation. To resolve the matter, SHO agreed to: (1) affirm its compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (2) issue and post revised policies to ensure that appropriate auxiliary aids, including sign language interpreters or video interpretation services, are provided to deaf or hard-of-hearing patients or companions within a two hour time period; (3) develop procedures to assess the sign language interpreter needs of patients or companions; (4) train hospital personnel and physicians on its revised policies and procedures to ensure effective communication; (5) place TTY lines throughout its facility; (6) maintain a centralized telecommunication number 24-hours per day, 7-days per week for sign language interpreter requests; and (7) provide regular compliance reports to OCR. Read the SHO Resolution Agreement

  • Sullivan County Department of Family Services (DFS)(Resolved on February 7, 2008) – The complainant, who is deaf and receiving food stamps, reported that DFS staff declined to provide her with a sign language interpreter unless she was willing to pay between $150 and $170 per hour. After receiving her complaint, OCR’s Region II office conducted an investigation of DFS, a New York social services agency serving 4025 food stamp users per month. To resolve the matter, DFS signed an OCR Resolution Agreement, agreeing to: (1) prohibit surcharges on auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, note takers, assistive listening devices, and computer-assisted real time transcription; (2) affirm its compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (3) designate a Section 504 Coordinator and develop a Section 504 grievance procedure; (4) issue and post revised policies to ensure that requested sign language interpreters are provided to deaf or hard-of-hearing patients or companions within a two hour time period; (5) develop procedures to assess the sign language interpreter needs of patients or companions; (6) train DFS staff on its revised policies and procedures to ensure effective communication; (7) accept relay operator calls; and (8) provide regular compliance reports to OCR. Read the DFS Resolution Agreement

  • Catskill Regional Medical Center (CRMC)(Resolved on March 13, 2008) – The complainant, who is deaf, reported that CRMC staff failed to provide her with a sign language interpreter on several occasions. OCR’s Region II office subsequently conducted an investigation of CRMC, which has an emergency response helicopter, a trauma center, and a 162-bed hospital, serving 56,000 patients each year in Sullivan County, New York. To resolve the matter, CRMC signed an OCR Resolution Agreement, agreeing to: (1) prohibit surcharges on auxiliary aids and services, including sign language interpreters, video interpretation services, note takers, assistive listening devices, and computer-assisted real time transcription; (2) affirm its compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794; (3) designate a Section 504 Coordinator and develop a Section 504 grievance procedure; (4) issue and post revised policies to ensure that appropriate auxiliary aids, including sign language interpreters or video interpretation services, are provided to deaf or hard-of-hearing patients or companions within the time periods set by the New York State Department of Health; (5) develop procedures to assess the sign language interpreter needs of patients or companions; (6) train CRMC personnel on its revised policies and procedures to ensure effective communication; and (7) provide regular compliance reports to OCR. Read the CRMC Resolution Agreement

  • Hanover, Virginia Department of Social Services (the DSS) - OCR worked with a county department of social services to develop and issue a service animal policy so that persons with disabilities who use service animals throughout the county will be able to access social services. OCR found that the policy that the county previously had, requiring documentation of certification of a service animal, violated Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. OCR also determined that DSS violated these laws when it failed to appropriately consider a request for a reasonable modification by a woman with a disability who asked for permission to be accompanied by her “therapy/service” dog in meeting with staff. To ensure that staff would comply with the law and that individuals with disabilities who used service animals would be aware of their rights, DSS agreed to post notices of its new service animal policy in key locations visible to clients and members of the public and to conduct training for all staff on serving people with disabilities, providing reasonable modifications, and understanding and applying the new service animal policy. The DSS also committed to inform all new hires of its service animal policy and to periodically the training and policies. DSS took these steps within six weeks of receiving the letter from OCR, informing DSS of the violation findings. As a result of these actions, not only persons with disabilities who use service animals, but all persons with disabilities who reside in this county of almost 100,000 people, will have access to the variety of social service programs and benefits that the county offers. Read the DSS Letter of Findings

  • Success Stories in Facilitating the Community Integration of People with Disabilities

  • Success Stories in Faciltating Access to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Programs

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Examples of Covered Entities

Some of the institutions, programs and service providers that may receive funds from the DHHS are:

  • Hospitals
  • Medicaid and Medicare Providers
  • Physicians and other health care professionals in private practice with patients assisted by Medicaid
  • Family Health Centers
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Alcohol and Drug Treatment Centers
  • Nursing Homes
  • State agencies that are responsible for administering health care
  • Foster Care Homes
  • Public And Private Adoption And Foster Care Agencies
  • Day Care Centers
  • Senior Citizen Centers
  • Nutrition Programs
  • State and local income assistance and human service agencies

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Resources for Covered Entities and Advocates

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Additional Resources

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