Section 504 symbols    

1. DISABILITY RIGHTS LAWS

Rehabilitation Act, Section 504

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112, September 26, 1973)87 and its subsequent amendments are precursors to the more well-known Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed in 1990. Originally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was intended to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities in programs or activities receiving Federal funding. Section 504 provided the following:

Sec. 504. No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in Section 7 (6), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.



In 1978, the "Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Amendments of 1978" (PL 95-602, November 6, 1978)88 was passed broadening the scope of Section 504 to include the Executive Branch Agencies of the Federal Government. As amended, Section 504 reads as follows (the language added in the amendment is underlined):

Sec. 504. No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in Section 7 (6), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service. The head of each such agency shall promulgate such regulations as may be necessary to carry out the a mendments to this section made by the Rehabilitation, Comprehensive Services, and Developmental Disabilities Act of 1978. Copies of any proposed regulation shall be submitted to appropriate authorizing committees of Congress, and such regulation may take effect no earlier than the thirtieth day after the date on which such regulation is so submitted to such committees.


As a result, each Federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs and activities. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have Section 504 regulations covering entities that receive such funding.

Requirements common to Federal agency Section 504 regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits.89

On April 15, 1987 the Federal Communications Commission released its Report and Order90 (R&O), Amendment of Part 1 of the Commission's Rules to Implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, 29 U.S.C. 794. In the R&O, the Commission adopted with minor modifications the Department of Justice's prototype regulations for implementing and enforcing Section 504.

In 2003, the Commission released an Order amending its Section 504 regulations.91 The amendment updated the language in the Commission's rules and added the Section 504 Handbook to its implementation of the Section 504 requirements.

In addition to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, there are other Federal laws that address disability issues. The following is a brief description of some of the laws that are frequently mentioned in connection with topics of interest to the FCC.

Rehabilitation Act

    Section 50192

      "Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by Federal agencies of the executive branch."93

    Section 50394

      "Section 503 requires affirmative action and prohibits employment discrimination by Federal government contractors and subcontractors with contracts of more than $10,000."95

    Section 50896

      "Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the Federal government. Section 508 requires Federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.

      An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments, and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508."97

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)98

    "The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

    To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered."99

    ADA Title I: Employment100

    "Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship."101

    ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities102

    "Title II covers all activities of State and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of Federal funding. Title II requires that State and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings).

    State and local governments are required to follow specific architectural standards in the new construction and alteration of their buildings. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings, and communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided."103

    ADA Title II: Public Transportation104

    "The transportation provisions of title II cover public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak). Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against people with disabilities in the provision of their services. They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used buses, remanufacture buses in an accessible manner, and, unless it would result in an undue burden, provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems. Paratransit is a service where individuals who are unable to use the regular transit system independently (because of a physical or mental impairment) are picked up and dropped off at their destinations."105

    ADA Title III: Public Accommodations106

    "Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors' offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Transportation services provided by private entities are also covered by [T]itle III.

    Public accommodations must comply with basic nondiscrimination requirements that prohibit exclusion, segregation, and unequal treatment. They also must comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with people with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation's resources.

    Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or trade-related applications, licensing, certifications, or credentialing must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be offered.

    Commercial facilities, such as factories and warehouses, must comply with the ADA's architectural standards for new construction and alterations."107

    ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services108

    "Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs), which are also known as teletypewriters (TTYs), and callers who use voice telephones to communicate with each other through a third party communications assistant. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum standards for TRS services. Title IV also requires closed captioning of Federally funded public service announcements."109,110

Architectural Barriers Act111

    "The Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) requires that buildings and facilities that are designed, constructed, or altered with Federal funds, or leased by a Federal agency, comply with Federal standards for physical accessibility. ABA requirements are limited to architectural standards in new and altered buildings and in newly leased facilities. They do not address the activities conducted in those buildings and facilities. Facilities of the U.S. Postal Service are covered by the ABA."112

Telecommunications Act

    Sections 255 and 251113

      "Section 255 and Section 251(a)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. These amendments ensure that people with disabilities will have access to a broad range of products and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services, that were often inaccessible to many users with disabilities."114,115

    Section 713116

      Section 713 empowered the FCC to develop rules that would regulate the provision of television closed captioning services. It also charged the Commission to examine issues surrounding the provision of television video description services so as to "ensure the accessibility of video programming to persons with visual impairments, and to report to Congress on its findings."117

      As a result, the Commission issued rules requiring captioning of television programs118 as well as rules requiring that certain major broadcast and cable television stations provide video description for 50 hours of programming per calendar quarter.119 However, in a decision released November 8, 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia held that Section 713 did not give the FCC authority to enact video description rules. In its conclusion, the Court decided to "reverse and vacate the Commission's Order insofar as it requires broadcasters to implement video description."120

Television Decoder Circuitry Act121

The Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 requires that beginning July 1, 1993, all television sets with screens 13 inches or larger, either made or imported for use in the United States, have built-in decoder circuitry that allows it to display closed captioning.

Hearing Aid Compatibility Act122

The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requires that all telephones, including cordless telephones, manufactured or imported for use in the U.S. be hearing aid compatible. Secure telephones are exempt, as are telephones used with public mobile services or private radio services. A telephone is hearing aid compatible if it provides internal means (i.e., without the use of external devices) for effective use with hearing aids that are designed to be compatible with telephones that meet established technical standards for hearing aid compatibility.123




last reviewed/updated on April 2003 


If you have questions, concerns or need assistance in regard to disability issues, please do not hesitate to contact us at dro@fcc.gov

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