Disability Laws

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by recipients of federal funds, and requires recipients to make their programs and activities accessible to everyone.

Disability laws define a person with a disability as an individual who:

  • has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; or
  • has a record of such impairment; or
  • is regarded as having such an impairment.

The determination that a condition is a disability depends on whether the impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities and must be assessed by examining the extent, duration, and impact of the impairment. A major life activity is an everyday activity that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty.

Persons who do not have disabilities but who are treated in a discriminatory manner because they are “regarded as” having a disability are also protected by disability laws.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 broadened the scope of Section 504 to include public accommodations, state and local governments, telecommunications, transportation, and employment. The ADA prohibits discrimination in nearly every sector of life.

The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law on September 25, 2008 and took effect on January 1, 2009. The major revision of the law was that disability should be considered broadly to include persons with a wide range of physical and mental impairments. It is the intention of Congress that the focus of the determination of disability should be on how a major life activity is substantially limited, not on what an individual can do in spite of the impairment.