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Your Rights Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS forces Federal laws that prohibit discrimination by health care and human service providers that receive funds from DHHS. One such law is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


Section 504 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based solely on their handicap. The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations which receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency, including DHHS.

Section 504 forbids excluding or denying individuals with handicaps an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services. It defines the rights of individuals with handicaps to participate in and have access to program benefits and services. The law also covers discrimination in employment matters.


Qualified individuals with handicaps are protected from discrimination by Section 504.
Section 504 definesindividuals with handicaps as persons with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities; individuals with a history of a physical or mental impairment; or those who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment. Major life activities include caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. Some examples of handicapping conditions are: AIDS, alcoholism, blindness or visual impairment, cancer, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, drug addiction, heart disease, and mental or emotional illness.

In addition to being an individual with handicaps, you must meet the criteria to be considered qualified, which includes the following:

  • For purposes of employment, qualified individuals with handicaps are persons who, with reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied or have been hired to perform.
  • Reasonable accommodation means an employer is required to take reasonable steps to accommodate your disability unless it would cause the employer undue hardship.
  • For purposes of receiving services, education or training, qualified individuals with handicaps are persons who meet normal and essential eligibility requirements.


The Section 504 prohibitions against discrimination apply to service availability, accessibiliy and delivery, employment, and the administrative activities and responsibilities of health care and service recipients of Federal financial assistance. Qualified individuals with handicaps may not because of their handicap, be:

  • Denied the opportunity to participate in or benefit from federally funded recipients' programs, services, or other benefits.
  • Denied access to programs, services, benefits or opportunities to participate as a result of physical barriers.
  • Denied employment opportunities, including hiring, promotion, training, and fringe be for which they are otherwise entitled or qualified. . .

These and other prohibitions against discrimination because of handicap can be found in the DHHS Section 504 regulation at 45 CFR Part 84. The regulation covers many hospitals, nursing homes, mental health and social service programs, as well as other human service programs receiving this Department.

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