Laws That Protect Disability Rights

Note: Although the ADA is the most comprehensive policy statement ever made in American law about how the nation should address individuals with disabilities, it is not the only civil rights act that protects the rights of people with disabilities. Other civil rights laws enacted between 1964 and 1986, as well as one passed in 1998, provide limited protection for people with disabilities.

Civil Rights Act

This law, the first forerunner to the ADA, was passed in 1964. It outlaws discrimination based on race in Federally funded programs and in public accommodations and employment. While this law did not specifically apply to persons with disabilities, it served as a framework for future legislation.

Architectural Barriers Act of 1968

This was the first Federal law addressing civil rights for people with disabilities. It requires buildings constructed by the Federal government or with Federal funding be accessible to people with disabilities. The law resulted in the first set of standards for the removal of architectural barriers: The Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS)

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

This was the first Federal law to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. It requires that Federally funded programs be accessible to people with disabilities and that Federal employers provide reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities. Much of the terminology in the Rehabilitation Act was later used in the ADA.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

In 1975, predecessor legislation to what is now known as IDEA was passed. IDEA establishes the rights of students with disabilities to a free, appropriate public education in the most integrated setting possible. It sets forth a process where parents and schools work together to design individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities.

Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA)

In 1986, this law was passed to ensure access to air travel by people with disabilities. The ACAA was passed in response to a Supreme Court decision that found that the Rehabilitation Act did not apply to air travel.

Fair Housing Act

This law, as amended in 1988 to cover individuals with disabilities, makes it unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of housing because disability. The Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities, and allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces. (The landlord is not required to pay for the changes.) The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act

In 1998, eight years after the ADA was passed by Congress, an amendment was passed that required increased access to electronic and information technology for people with disabilities. This law provided for changes in Federal purchasing of information technology and increased access to Federal Internet sites.