Civil Rights Requirements - C. Civil Rights Laws Applicable to Persons with Disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794 ("Section 504") prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of Federal financial assistance. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by both public and private entities, whether or not they receive Federal financial assistance. Providers covered by Section 504 and/or the ADA may not deny benefits or services to qualified individuals with disabilities or provide lesser benefits than they provide to others. In general, an individual with a disability is "qualified" if that person meets the essential eligibility requirements for receipt of services or participation in the program or activity with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies or practices. The purpose of these laws is to ensure that covered programs are as accessible to persons with disabilities as they are to nondisabled individuals.

Persons with disabilities may be eligible under some state programs for exemptions from work requirements and/or time limits. However, program providers may not refuse to allow a person with a disability to participate in training programs or be employed because the person has a disability, and they must eliminate unnecessary eligibility standards or rules that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate. This applies to persons with mental or physical disabilities. Eligibility for participation in any benefit, service or program must be based on an individual assessment of each person's ability to meet the eligibility requirements rather than on stereotypes or assumptions about the effects of a type of disability. Program providers are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices and procedures that deny equal access to individuals with disabilities, unless a fundamental alteration in the program would result. If a reasonable modification to the program requirements would enable a person to meet the eligibility requirements without fundamentally altering the program, that modification must be offered.

Set forth below are examples of conduct that may violate Section 504 and the ADA:

  • A benefit provider refers persons with disabilities to placement opportunities inappropriately because of the failure to properly and individually take into account a person's known disabilities.
  • An employment agency that contracts with a State agency to refer TANF beneficiaries to jobs, has a policy that prohibits the referral of anyone who has ever had a back injury to jobs as nursing aides or home health workers, without any individual assessment of the beneficiary's ability to do the job.

Program providers must ensure that programs and services are provided in the least restrictive environment, unless separate or different measures are necessary to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities. Programs that provide special benefits to people with disabilities are permitted, but people with disabilities cannot be compelled to participate in those programs. Even if separate programs are provided for persons with disabilities, the regular program may still be required to provide reasonable modifications.

Program providers must also ensure effective communication with individuals who have hearing, speech or visual impairments. Providers must provide such persons with auxiliary aids if necessary to ensure effective communication, but are not required to provide aids that would cause a fundamental alteration in the program or that would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. Thus, it could be a violation of Section 504 and the ADA if:

  • Information about job openings is available by telephone but it is not available by other effective means for individuals with hearing impairments.
  • A provider fails to provide reasonable accommodation in job training and other programs conducted by the agency, e.g., a trainee who is blind is not provided instructional materials on audiotape or in braille, or other effective means for persons with visual impairments.
  • Information is provided orally but a sign language interpreter or other form of effective communication is not provided for hearing impaired participants.

Finally, providers may not exclude individuals with disabilities because their buildings are inaccessible. A provider is not required to make structural changes in existing facilities where other methods are effective in achieving equal access. In choosing among other methods, priority must be given to those that offer programs in the most integrated setting. However, providers are not required to take any action that would result in substantial modifications in the nature of the program or in undue financial or administrative burden. New construction and alterations to existing facilities must be made accessible and usable by persons with disabilities except where structurally impracticable.

Index: Civil Rights Laws and Welfare Reform, Overview

Content created by Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
Content last reviewed on July 26, 2013