Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires access to programs and activities that are funded by Federal agencies and to Federal employment. The law also established the Access Board (section 502). Later amendments strengthened requirements for access to electronic and information technology in the Federal sector (Section 508).  With passage the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, a new provision (section 510) was added to address access to medical diagnostic equipment. The Board plays a lead role in developing and maintaining standards for electronic and information technology under section 508 and medical diagnostic equipment covered by section 510. 

 


Section 502 (The Access Board)

Several years after the ABA had become law, Congress observed that compliance had been uneven and that no initiatives to create Federal design standards for accessibility were underway. Clearly, one central agency needed to take charge of enforcing the ABA and ensuring development of design standards. The concept of such an agency began to take shape as Congress considered the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 502 of this law created the Access Board, originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. The Board was charged with ensuring Federal agency compliance with the ABA and proposing solutions to the environmental barriers problems addressed in the ABA. Congress was clear in its intent that compliance be the primary essence of the Board's function.

Section 502 lays out the duties of the Board under the ABA, which include: ensuring compliance with standards issued under the ABA, developing and maintaining guidelines upon which the standards are based, and promoting access throughout all segments of society. This section of the law also outlines the membership and composition of the Board.

Text of Section 502 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. §792)

§792. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board

(a) Establishment; membership; chairperson; vice-chairperson; term of office; termination of membership; reappointment; compensation and travel expenses; bylaws; quorum requirements

(1) There is established within the Federal Government the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (hereinafter referred to as the "Access Board") which shall be composed as follows:

(A) Thirteen members shall be appointed by the President from among members of the general public of whom at least a majority shall be individuals with disabilities.

(B) The remaining members shall be the heads of each of the following departments or agencies (or their designees whose positions are executive level IV or higher):

(i) Department of Health and Human Services.
(ii) Department of Transportation.
(iii) Department of Housing and Urban Development.
(iv) Department of Labor.
(v) Department of the Interior.
(vi) Department of Defense.
(vii) Department of Justice.
(viii) General Services Administration.
(ix) Department of Veterans Affairs.
(x) United States Postal Service.
(xi) Department of Education.
(xii) Department of Commerce.

The chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Access Board shall be elected by majority vote of the members of the Access Board to serve for terms of one year. When the chairperson is a member of the general public, the vice-chairperson shall be a Federal official; and when the chairperson is a Federal official, the vice-chairperson shall be a member of the general public. Upon the expiration of the term as chairperson of a member who is a Federal official, the subsequent chairperson shall be a member of the general public; and vice versa.

(2)(A)(i) The term of office of each appointed member of the Access Board shall be 4 years, except as provided in clause (ii). Each year, the terms of office of at least three appointed members of the board shall expire.

(ii)(I) One member appointed for a term beginning December 4, 1992 shall serve for a term of 3 years.

(II) One member appointed for a term beginning December 4, 1993 shall serve for a term of 2 years.

(III) One member appointed for a term beginning December 4, 1994 shall serve for a term of 1 year.

(IV) Members appointed for terms beginning before December 4, 1992 shall serve for terms of 3 years.

(B) A member whose term has expired may continue to serve until a successor has been appointed.

(C) A member appointed to fill a vacancy shall serve for the remainder of the term to which that member's predecessor was appointed.

(3) If any appointed member of the Access Board becomes a Federal employee, such member may continue as a member of the Access Board for not longer than the sixty-day period beginning on the date the member becomes a Federal employee.

(4) No individual appointed under paragraph (1)(A) of this subsection who has served as a member of the Access Board may be reappointed to the Access Board more than once unless such individual has not served on the Access Board for a period of two years prior to the effective date of such individual's appointment.

(5)(A) Members of the Access Board who are not regular full-time employees of the United States shall, while serving on the business of the Access Board, be entitled to receive compensation at rates fixed by the President, but not to exceed the daily equivalent of the rate of pay for level IV of the Executive Schedule under section 5315 of title 5, including travel time, for each day they are engaged in the performance of their duties as members of the Access Board; and shall be entitled to reimbursement for travel, subsistence, and other necessary expenses incurred by them in carrying out their duties under this section.

(B) Members of the Access Board who are employed by the Federal Government shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for travel, subsistence, and other necessary expenses incurred by them in carrying out their duties under this section.

(6)(A) The Access Board shall establish such bylaws and other rules as may be appropriate to enable the Access Board to carry out its functions under this chapter.

(B) The bylaws shall include quorum requirements. The quorum requirements shall provide that (i) a proxy may not be counted for purposes of establishing a quorum, and (ii) not less than half the members required for a quorum shall be members of the general public appointed under paragraph (1)(A).

(b) Functions

It shall be the function of the Access Board to--

(1) ensure compliance with the standards prescribed pursuant to the Act entitled "An Act to ensure that certain buildings financed with Federal funds are so designed and constructed as to be accessible to the physically handicapped", approved August 12, 1968 (commonly known as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968; 42 U.S.C. 4151 et seq.) (including the application of such Act to the United States Postal Service), including enforcing all standards under such Act, and ensuring that all waivers and modifications to the standards are based on findings of fact and are not inconsistent with the provisions of this section;

(2) develop advisory information for, and provide appropriate technical assistance to, individuals or entities with rights or duties under regulations prescribed pursuant to this subchapter or titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12131 et seq. and 12181 et seq.) with respect to overcoming architectural, transportation, and communication barriers;

(3) establish and maintain--

(A) minimum guidelines and requirements for the standards issued pursuant to the Act commonly known as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968;

(B) minimum guidelines and requirements for the standards issued pursuant to titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990;

(C) guidelines for accessibility of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment under section 255 of title 47; and

(D) standards for accessible electronic and information technology under section 794d of this title;

(4) promote accessibility throughout all segments of society;

(5) investigate and examine alternative approaches to the architectural, transportation, communication, and attitudinal barriers confronting individuals with disabilities, particularly with respect to telecommunications devices, public buildings and monuments, parks and parklands, public transportation (including air, water, and surface transportation, whether interstate, foreign, intrastate, or local), and residential and institutional housing;

(6) determine what measures are being taken by Federal, State, and local governments and by other public or nonprofit agencies to eliminate the barriers described in paragraph (5);

(7) promote the use of the International Accessibility Symbol in all public facilities that are in compliance with the standards prescribed by the Administrator of General Services, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development pursuant to the Act commonly known as the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968;

(8) make to the President and to the Congress reports that shall describe in detail the results of its investigations under paragraphs (5) and (6);

(9) make to the President and to the Congress such recommendations for legislative and administrative changes as the Access Board determines to be necessary or desirable to eliminate the barriers described in paragraph (5);

(10) ensure that public conveyances, including rolling stock, are readily accessible to, and usable by, individuals with physical disabilities; and

(11) carry out the responsibilities specified for the Access Board in section 794d of this title.

(c) Additional functions; transportation barriers and housing needs; transportation and housing plans and proposals

The Access Board shall also (1)(A) determine how and to what extent transportation barriers impede the mobility of individuals with disabilities and aged individuals with disabilities and consider ways in which travel expenses in connection with transportation to and from work for individuals with disabilities can be met or subsidized when such individuals are unable to use mass transit systems or need special equipment in private transportation, and (B) consider the housing needs of individuals with disabilities; (2) determine what measures are being taken, especially by public and other nonprofit agencies and groups having an interest in and a capacity to deal with such problems, (A) to eliminate barriers from public transportation systems (including vehicles used in such systems), and to prevent their incorporation in new or expanded transportation systems, and (B) to make housing available and accessible to individuals with disabilities or to meet sheltered housing needs; and (3) prepare plans and proposals for such further actions as may be necessary to the goals of adequate transportation and housing for individuals with disabilities, including proposals for bringing together in a cooperative effort, agencies, organizations, and groups already working toward such goals or whose cooperation is essential to effective and comprehensive action.

(d) Electronic and information technology accessibility training

Beginning in fiscal year 2000, the Access Board, after consultation with the Secretary, representatives of such public and private entities as the Access Board determines to be appropriate (including the electronic and information technology industry), targeted individuals and entities (as defined in section 3002 of this title), and State information technology officers, shall provide training for Federal and State employees on any obligations related to section 794d of this title.

(e) Investigations; hearings; orders; administrative procedure applicable; final orders; judicial review; civil action; intervention

(1) The Access Board shall conduct investigations, hold public hearings, and issue such orders as it deems necessary to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Acts cited in subsection (b) of this section. Except as provided in paragraph (3) of subsection (f) of this section, the provisions of subchapter II of chapter 5, and chapter 7 of title 5 shall apply to procedures under this subsection, and an order of compliance issued by the Access Board shall be a final order for purposes of judicial review. Any such order affecting any Federal department, agency, or instrumentality of the United States shall be final and binding on such department, agency, or instrumentality. An order of compliance may include the withholding or suspension of Federal funds with respect to any building or public conveyance or rolling stock found not to be in compliance with standards enforced under this section. Pursuant to chapter 7 of title 5, any complainant or participant in a proceeding under this subsection may obtain review of a final order issued in such proceeding.

(2) The executive director is authorized, at the direction of the Access Board--

(A) to bring a civil action in any appropriate United States district court to enforce, in whole or in part, any final order of the Access Board under this subsection; and

(B) to intervene, appear, and participate, or to appear as amicus curiae, in any court of the United States or in any court of a State in civil actions that relate to this section or to the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 [42 U.S.C. 4151 et seq.].

Except as provided in section 518(a) of title 28, relating to litigation before the Supreme Court, the executive director may appear for and represent the Access Board in any civil litigation brought under this section.

(f) Appointment of executive director, administrative law judges, and other personnel; provisions applicable to administrative law judges; authority and duties of executive director; finality of orders of compliance

(1) There shall be appointed by the Access Board an executive director and such other professional and clerical personnel as are necessary to carry out its functions under this chapter. The Access Board is authorized to appoint as many administrative law judges as are necessary for proceedings required to be conducted under this section. The provisions applicable to administrative law judges appointed under section 3105 of title 5 shall apply to administrative law judges appointed under this subsection.

(2) The Executive Director shall exercise general supervision over all personnel employed by the Access Board (other than administrative law judges and their assistants). The Executive Director shall have final authority on behalf of the Access Board, with respect to the investigation of alleged noncompliance and in the issuance of formal complaints before the Access Board, and shall have such other duties as the Access Board may prescribe.

(3) For the purpose of this section, an order of compliance issued by an administrative law judge shall be deemed to be an order of the Access Board and shall be the final order for the purpose of judicial review.

(g) Technical, administrative, or other assistance; appointment, compensation, and travel expenses of advisory and technical experts and consultants

(1)(A) In carrying out the technical assistance responsibilities of the Access Board under this section, the Board may enter into an interagency agreement with another Federal department or agency.

(B) Any funds appropriated to such a department or agency for the purpose of providing technical assistance may be transferred to the Access Board. Any funds appropriated to the Access Board for the purpose of providing such technical assistance may be transferred to such department or agency.

(C) The Access Board may arrange to carry out the technical assistance responsibilities of the Board under this section through such other departments and agencies for such periods as the Board determines to be appropriate.

(D) The Access Board shall establish a procedure to ensure separation of its compliance and technical assistance responsibilities under this section.

(2) The departments or agencies specified in subsection (a) of this section shall make available to the Access Board such technical, administrative, or other assistance as it may require to carry out its functions under this section, and the Access Board may appoint such other advisers, technical experts, and consultants as it deems necessary to assist it in carrying out its functions under this section. Special advisory and technical experts and consultants appointed pursuant to this paragraph shall, while performing their functions under this section, be entitled to receive compensation at rates fixed by the Chairperson, but not exceeding the daily equivalent of the rate of pay for level 4 of the Senior Executive Service Schedule under section 5382 of title 5, including travel time, and while serving away from their homes or regular places of business they may be allowed travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, as authorized by section 5703 of such title 5 for persons in the Government service employed intermittently.

(h) Omitted

(i) Grants and contracts to aid Access Board in carrying out its functions; acceptance of gifts, devises, and bequests of property

(1) The Access Board may make grants to, or enter into contracts with, public or private organizations to carry out its duties under subsections (b) and (c) of this section.

(2)(A) The Access Board may accept, hold, administer, and utilize gifts, devises, and bequests of property, both real and personal, for the purpose of aiding and facilitating the functions of the Access Board under paragraphs (2) and (4) of subsection (b) of this section. Gifts and bequests of money and proceeds from sales of other property received as gifts, devises, or bequests shall be deposited in the Treasury and shall be disbursed upon the order of the Chairperson. Property accepted pursuant to this section, and the proceeds thereof, shall be used as nearly as possible in accordance with the terms of the gifts, devises, or bequests. For purposes of Federal income, estate, or gift taxes, property accepted under this section shall be considered as a gift, devise, or bequest to the United States.

(B) The Access Board shall publish regulations setting forth the criteria the Board will use in determining whether the acceptance of gifts, devises, and bequests of property, both real and personal, would reflect unfavorably upon the ability of the Board or any employee to carry out the responsibilities or official duties of the Board in a fair and objective manner, or would compromise the integrity of or the appearance of the integrity of a Government program or any official involved in that program.

(3) Omitted.

(j) Authorization of appropriations

There are authorized to be appropriated for the purpose of carrying out the duties and functions of the Access Board under this section such sums as may be necessary for each of the fiscal years 1999 through 2003.

 


 Section 508 (Federal Electronic and Information Technology)

On August 7, 1998, President Clinton signed into law the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998 which covers access to federally funded programs and services. The law strengthens section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and requires access to electronic and information technology provided by the Federal government. The law applies to all Federal agencies when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology. Federal agencies must ensure that this technology is accessible to employees and members of the public with disabilities to the extent it does not pose an "undue burden." Section 508 speaks to various means for disseminating information, including computers, software, and electronic office equipment. It applies to, but is not solely focused on, Federal pages on the Internet or the World Wide Web. It does not apply to web pages of private industry.

The Board is responsible for developing accessibility standards for such technology for incorporation into regulations that govern Federal procurement practices. The net result will be that Federal agencies will have to purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible except where it would cause an "undue burden." The law also provides a complaint process under which complaints concerning access to technology will be investigated by the responsible Federal agency.

Text of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. §794d)

§794d. Electronic and information technology

(a) Requirements for Federal departments and agencies

(1) Accessibility

(A) Development, procurement, maintenance, or use of electronic and information technology

When developing, procuring, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology, each Federal department or agency, including the United States Postal Service, shall ensure, unless an undue burden would be imposed on the department or agency, that the electronic and information technology allows, regardless of the type of medium of the technology --

(i) individuals with disabilities who are Federal employees to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities; and

(ii) individuals with disabilities who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency to have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access to and use of the information and data by such members of the public who are not individuals with disabilities.

(B) Alternative means efforts

When development, procurement, maintenance, or use of electronic and information technology that meets the standards published by the Access Board under paragraph (2) would impose an undue burden, the Federal department or agency shall provide individuals with disabilities covered by paragraph (1) with the information and data involved by an alternative means of access that allows the individual to use the information and data.

(2) Electronic and information technology standards

(A) In general

Not later than 18 months after August 7, 1998, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (referred to in this section as the ‘Access Board’), after consultation with the Secretary of Education, the Administrator of General Services, the Secretary of Commerce, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the Secretary of Defense, and the head of any other Federal department or agency that the Access Board determines to be appropriate, including consultation on relevant research findings, and after consultation with the electronic and information technology industry and appropriate public or nonprofit agencies or organizations, including organizations representing individuals with disabilities, shall issue and publish standards setting forth--

(i) for purposes of this section, a definition of electronic and information technology that is consistent with the definition of information technology specified in section 5002(3) of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (40 U.S.C. 1401(3)); and

(ii) the technical and functional performance criteria necessary to implement the requirements set forth in paragraph (1).

(B) Review and amendment

The Access Board shall periodically review and, as appropriate, amend the standards required under subparagraph (A) to reflect technological advances or changes in electronic and information technology.

(3) Incorporation of standards

Not later than 6 months after the Access Board publishes the standards required under paragraph (2), the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council shall revise the Federal Acquisition Regulation and each Federal department or agency shall revise the Federal procurement policies and directives under the control of the department or agency to incorporate those standards. Not later than 6 months after the Access Board revises any standards required under paragraph (2), the Council shall revise the Federal Acquisition Regulation and each appropriate Federal department or agency shall revise the procurement policies and directives, as necessary, to incorporate the revisions.

(4) Acquisition planning

In the event that a Federal department or agency determines that compliance with the standards issued by the Access Board under paragraph (2) relating to procurement imposes an undue burden, the documentation by the department or agency supporting the procurement shall explain why compliance creates an undue burden.

(5) Exemption for national security systems

This section shall not apply to national security systems, as that term is defined in section 5142 of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 (40 U.S.C. 1452).

(6) Construction

(A) Equipment

In a case in which the Federal Government provides access to the public to information or data through electronic and information technology, nothing in this section shall be construed to require a Federal department or agency --

(i) to make equipment owned by the Federal Government available for access and use by individuals with disabilities covered by paragraph (1) at a location other than that where the electronic and information technology is provided to the public; or

(ii) to purchase equipment for access and use by individuals with disabilities covered by paragraph (1) at a location other than that where the electronic and information technology is provided to the public.

(B) Software and peripheral devices

Except as required to comply with standards issued by the Access Board under paragraph (2), nothing in paragraph (1) requires the installation of specific accessibility_related software or the attachment of a specific accessibility_related peripheral device at a workstation of a Federal employee who is not an individual with a disability.

(b) Technical assistance

The Administrator of General Services and the Access Board shall provide technical assistance to individuals and Federal departments and agencies concerning the requirements of this section.

(c) Agency evaluations

Not later than 6 months after August 7, 1998, the head of each Federal department or agency shall evaluate the extent to which the electronic and information technology of the department or agency is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities described in subsection (a)(1), compared to the access to and use of the technology by individuals described in such subsection who are not individuals with disabilities, and submit a report containing the evaluation to the Attorney General.

(d) Reports

(1) Interim report

Not later than 18 months after August 7, 1998, the Attorney General shall prepare and submit to the President a report containing information on and recommendations regarding the extent to which the electronic and information technology of the Federal Government is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities described in subsection (a)(1).

(2) Biennial reports

Not later than 3 years after August 7, 1998, and every 2 years thereafter, the Attorney General shall prepare and submit to the President and Congress a report containing information on and recommendations regarding the state of Federal department and agency compliance with the requirements of this section, including actions regarding individual complaints under subsection (f).

(e) Cooperation

Each head of a Federal department or agency (including the Access Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the General Services Administration) shall provide to the Attorney General such information as the Attorney General determines is necessary to conduct the evaluations under subsection (c) and prepare the reports under subsection (d).

(f) Enforcement

(1) General

(A) Complaints

Effective 6 months after the date of publication by the Access Board of final standards described in subsection (a) (2), any individual with a disability may file a complaint alleging that a Federal department or agency fails to comply with subsection (a)(1) of this section in providing electronic and information technology.

(B) Application

This subsection shall apply only to electronic and information technology that is procured by a Federal department or agency not less than 6 months after the date of publication by the Access Board of final standards described in subsection (a) (2).

(2) Administrative complaints

Complaints filed under paragraph (1) shall be filed with the Federal department or agency alleged to be in noncompliance. The Federal department or agency receiving the complaint shall apply the complaint procedures established to implement section 794 of this title for resolving allegations of discrimination in a federally conducted program or activity.

(3) Civil actions

The remedies, procedures, and rights set forth in sections 794a(a)(2) and 794a(b) of this title shall be the remedies, procedures, and rights available to any individual with a disability filing a complaint under paragraph (1).

(g) Application to other Federal laws

This section shall not be construed to limit any right, remedy, or procedure otherwise available under any provision of Federal law (including sections 791 through 794(a) of this title) that provides greater or equal protection for the rights of individuals with disabilities than this section.

 


 

Section 510 (Medical Diagnostic Equipment)

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" to reform and extend the provision of health care. The law includes a provision to amend the Rehabilitation Act to address access to medical diagnostic equipment, including examination tables and chairs, weight scales, x-ray machines and other radiological equipment, and mammography equipment. Under this amendment, the Board is authorized to develop access standards for medical diagnostic equipment in consultation with the Food and Drug Administration. The standards are to address independent access to, and use of, equipment by people with disabilities to the maximum extent possible. The Board is also responsible for periodically reviewing and updating the standards.

Text of Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. §794f)

§794f. Establishment of Standards for Accessible Medical Diagnostic Equipment

(a) Standards - Not later than 24 months after the date of enactment of the Affordable Health Choices Act, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board shall, in consultation with the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, promulgate regulatory standards in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act setting forth the minimum technical criteria for medical diagnostic equipment used in (or in conjunction with) physician's offices, clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals, and other medical settings. The standards shall ensure that such equipment is accessible to, and usable by, individuals with accessibility needs, and shall allow independent entry to, use of, and exit from the equipment by such individuals to the maximum extent possible.

(b) Medical Diagnostic Equipment Covered - The standards issued under subsection (a) for medical diagnostic equipment shall apply to equipment that includes examination tables, examination chairs (including chairs used for eye examinations or procedures, and dental examinations or procedures), weight scales, mammography equipment, x-ray machines, and other radiological equipment commonly used for diagnostic purposes by health professionals.

(c) Review and Amendment - The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, in consultation with the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, shall periodically review and, as appropriate, amend the standards in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act.