HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Statement on the 50th Anniversary of Signing of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
“Fifty years ago, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) was signed into law, marking a turning point in our nation’s civil rights history. The Rehab Act authorized services that support disabled people in living the lives they want to lead, fully included in their communities. The law established accessibility standards for information technology, which are crucial in today’s high-tech world, and more.
“Perhaps most important, the Rehab Act was the first federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Although it would be another four years before the regulations were established to implement them, those civil rights provisions represent a watershed moment for the independent living movement, which was then in its infancy. The Rehab Act paved the way – and provided a model – for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which extended anti-discrimination protections beyond the federal government, and other federal laws and actions to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities.
“None of these achievements would have happened without the relentless advocacy of disabled people. Led by people like the late Judy Heumann, whose tenacity and total commitment to the rights of people with disabilities led her to become known as “the mother” of the disability rights movement people with disabilities, their families, and other advocates came together and changed our country in a fundamental way.
“These issues are personal to me. I began my career by providing legal aid to cases involving people with intellectual disabilities. During my time as Attorney General of California, I established a Bureau of Disability rights and made it a priority to focus on protecting and advancing the rights of people with disabilities. Disability rights are civil rights, and you can count on me to continue the fight for them.
“While we have made great strides in disability rights, we still have work to do. Disabled people still face discrimination and barriers to exercising their basic civil rights. That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration specifically recognized disabled people in its executive order on advancing equity and has prioritized strengthening civil rights protections for people with disabilities. And that’s why HHS has proposed comprehensive updates to our regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehab Act, which will be a critical tool for fighting disability discrimination.
“I am deeply grateful for their work. Today, we reach for the next step - equitable access to our health care and human services system for all individuals with disabilities.”
“The Biden-Harris Administration has been working to tear down the barriers in our society that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in public life. We are committed to expanding the very idea of access, and to developing a health care and human services infrastructure that supports all Americans. We wouldn’t be here today without the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I am proud to be part of a Department, and an Administration, that makes equitable access to health care and human services a priority.”
- HHS Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm
“The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 laid a foundation for our commitment to building a more just, inclusive, and equitable society where people with disabilities succeed and prosper, and this landmark legislation continues to remind us that creating opportunity for everyone makes our nation stronger. Half a century later, the Administration for Children and Families remains as dedicated as ever to reducing barriers for children, youth and families and ensuring people of all abilities can thrive.
- Administration for Children and Families Acting Assistant Secretary, Jeff Hild
“The Rehab Act was the first civil rights law to protect disabled people from discrimination. It opened doors to federally funded programs and activities and served as a foundation for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also united disability advocates in a common cause, which grew into the disability rights movement that has changed our country in fundamental ways. The Rehab Act is also special to ACL – it created our Independent Living programs and our National Institute on Disability Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research. Fifty years has not diminished its power or importance, and ACL remains committed to working every day to move closer to fulfilling its promises.”
- Administration for Community Living Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator, Alison Barkoff
“To ensure that individuals with disabilities may fully participate in our society, Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This landmark legislation paved the way for transformative laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, that enhance and promote inclusivity. At AHRQ, we pursue our unique scientific mission to improve healthcare for all, following the principles of the Rehabilitation Act to ensure that healthcare is equitably available so that every individual may access the healthcare they need or want.”
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Director, Robert Otto Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A.
“Today, the Rehab Act of 1973 turns 50. As the first federal civil rights legislation protecting people with disabilities from discrimination, the Rehab Act serves as a cornerstone for the Americans with Disabilities Act and other advances, paving the way for what we continue to build upon today. As we continue to shape equity in our society and expand access across our nation, let’s remember to protect the rights of people with disabilities and afford all people the right to well-being, dignity, and opportunity.”
- HHS Assistant Secretary for Health, ADM Rachel Levine, M.D.
“As we mark the anniversary of this landmark act, we renew our commitment to creating a culture of belonging and integrating people with disabilities into current and future public health activities. CDC and other federal agencies work hard each day to lead change to advance and promote disability inclusion, pride and power.”
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, Mandy Cohen, M.D., M.P.H.
“We join the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 with a strong recommitment that people with disabilities will not be an afterthought in healthcare or within the CMS programs. Disability is part of our human existence. Our programs are here to serve everyone who needs them, including millions of people who were born with a disability or develop one later in life. We must continue to be inclusive and intentional in our policies, support, and services across the healthcare system to effectively care for disabled people of all ages.”
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure
“The Departmental Appeals Board commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which laid the groundwork for the ADA and stands as a testament to our relentless pursuit of equity and access for all. Let us not forget the courageous individuals who occupied the then-HEW building in San Francisco, pushing for the rightful implementation of Section 504 and ensuring that rights on paper are fully implemented in practice.”
- HHS Departmental Appeals Board Chair, Judge Constance Tobias
“The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 finally brought the civil rights revolution to Americans with disabilities. The fight to implement the statute catalyzed the disability rights movement and steadily increased opportunity and integration for disabled Americans. As people with disabilities continue to face discrimination and barriers in health and social services programs, we at HHS honor the 50th Anniversary of this landmark statute by working to vigorously enforce the law today and every day.”
- HHS General Counsel, Samuel R. Bagenstos
“HRSA works every day to help ensure equal access to health care services for all, and we have seen the critical role that the Rehabilitation Act has played in making that a reality for individuals with disabilities. Whether it’s training primary care providers to better care for individuals with physical, developmental or intellectual disabilities or integrating development screening in HRSA-funded health centers that see patients regardless of their ability to pay, we are committed to the goals and vision of better health and better services to meet communities’ needs.”
- Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator, Carole Johnson
“As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, we recognize its profound impact on access and equity for people with disabilities, including American Indians and Alaska Natives. This landmark legislation laid the foundation for equal rights and paved the way for the ADA. The history of disability rights activism reminds us of the ongoing struggle for civil rights and inspires our commitment to providing inclusive health care and services for all.”
- Indian Health Service Director, Roselyn Tso
“Much progress has been made to address access and equity in the 50 years since the passage of the Rehab Act, but there’s more work to be done still. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT continues the important work to ensure that certified health IT can be leveraged to improve health equity and reduce health disparities across the nation.”
- National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Micky Tripathi, Ph.D., M.P.P.
“Coinciding with today’s 50th anniversary, NIH has designated people with disabilities as a population with health disparities, recognizing the significant disparities in rates of illness, morbidity, mortality and survival compared to the health status of the general population. This designation is among several important steps NIH is taking to address health disparities faced by people with disabilities and ensure their representation in NIH-supported research.”
- National Institutes of Health Acting Director, Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D.
“We are proud to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act, yet we are eager to continue our work toward improvement. The proposed update to HHS’ Section 504 rule is a major step forward in the fight to ensure that people with disabilities are not excluded from or discriminated against in health care and social services across the United States.”
- HHS Office for Civil Rights Director, Melanie Fontes Rainer
"Passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was a pivotal step in addressing discrimination against people with disabilities. Today, as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Rehabilitation Act, we remain committed to working with and supporting people with disabilities, so that they have access to high-quality and affordable behavioral health services and supports.”
- HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and SAMHSA Administrator, Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D.