This article is part of a series on the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by federal agencies, programs receiving federal financial assistance, federal employment, and the employment practices of federal contractors. It was a milestone for individuals with disabilities across the nation, and it serves as the foundation for many other disability-related legislation. Section 502 of the law also created the U.S. Access Board (originally named the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) to ensure access to federal buildings and facilities under the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968.
In establishing the Board, Congress directed the agency to enforce the ABA. As one of the first laws to address accessibility, the ABA required all federal buildings and facilities designed, built, or altered after August 12, 1968 to be accessible for people with disabilities. But comprehensive technical standards for implementing accessible design were initially unavailable and no oversight of federal agencies created minimal compliance. Congress determined that a central agency was needed to both establish and enforce accessibility requirements for facilities covered by the law. Thus, Congress included Section 502 in the Rehabilitation Act and created the Board.
50 years later, the Board continues to carry out its original duties. It develops and maintains the accessibility guidelines of the ABA and enforces compliance with the standards through the investigation of complaints. Anyone can file an ABA complaint, and even do so anonymously, if they visit a federal building, such as a post office, courthouse, Veterans Affairs medical center, Social Security Administration office, or other federal facility, and encounter an accessibility barrier. The Board simply needs the name or address of the facility and the specific barriers encountered. The Board opens an investigation to determine whether the facility is covered by the ABA and, if so, whether it meets the applicable standards. If a covered facility is not in compliance, the Board will work with the agency to develop a corrective action plan and monitor the case until all necessary work is completed.
“Our first duty as an agency was to ensure that the federal government is a model of accessibility, and we continue to carry out this important work,” stated Sachin Pavithran, the Board’s Executive Director. “But the Rehabilitation Act and the Architectural Barriers Act also blazed the trail for accessibility beyond the federal sector, as well as expand our mission and further establish us as a leading source of information on accessible design. We continue to work hard to achieve our vision of a nation that is fully accessible to and inclusive of all people with disabilities, and we look forward to dedicating the next fifty years and more to serving the American public.”
The Board is also responsible for accessible design requirements for facilities and transportation vehicles under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), information and communication technology in the federal sector under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, medical diagnostic equipment under Section 510 of the Rehabilitation Act, and, most recently, pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way under the ADA and ABA.
The Board commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act and continues to advance its mission of developing accessibility guidelines and promoting accessibility throughout society.
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