The 1973 Rehabilitation Act was the very first piece of legislation in the United States that sought to protect people with disabilities. It was a long-fought battle and eventually led to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the early 1990s.
Specifically, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to people with disabilities in the education and professional spheres. Along with the ADA, it prevents educational institutions and places of business from excluding, discriminating against, and providing unequal treatment to students and employees.
Who Exactly Does Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act Protect?
Section 504 was originally created to protect people with obvious disabilities. Back in 1973, the list looked a little different since there was more of a stigma around disabilities, especially mental.
Today, the list is fairly inclusive and covers any individual with a mental or physical impairment serious enough to hinder major life activities like seeing, hearing, walking, breathing, working, and learning.
A few disabilities that fall under this umbrella include:
- Heart disease
- Cognitive impairment
This list is certainly not exhaustive but meant to give you an idea of what the common types of disabilities are that qualify under Section 504.
What Does This Mean for Federal Agencies, Schools, and Contractors?
Any agency or school that receives federal funding is required to adhere to Section 504. This also applies to federal contractors. Avoiding discrimination is important so that you stay within the law, but it is also the right thing to do.
People with diversabilities (diverse abilities) bring a lot to the table and can provide a perspective you may have not considered before. Never underestimate someone simply because they are different.
In order to stay compliant with Section 504, your agency, school, or business cannot deny individuals with disabilities the right to participate in federally funded programs, services, or benefits.
Additionally, you cannot deny employment opportunities based upon the person’s disability. When combined with the ADA, this section also ensures that individuals with disabilities receive reasonable accommodations to do their jobs. You can learn more about that here.
What Happens if You Do Not Adhere to Section 504?
If someone feels that they have been discriminated against by your agency, educational institution, or place of business, they can report you to the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). At this point, there will be an inquiry and potentially a trial.
Making changes to your policies and ensuring that you adhere to Section 504 at all times can save your organization time, money, and a negative reputation.
If you have recently received a Section 504 complaint or you are not sure if your organization is Section 504 compliant, Applied Development can help. Our team will review your policies and procedures as well as any recent complaints to ensure you are well within the law. Give us a call today at 410.571.4016 or contact us online for details!