September 26, 2023 marked the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the first civil rights legislation protecting disabled people from discrimination. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs receiving federal financial assistance or conducted by federal agencies, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors. A powerful law in its own right, the Rehab Act also paved the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act and other advancements in disability rights.
In addition, the Rehab Act created the Independent Living Services program, the Centers for Independent Living program, and the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, all of which are part of ACL today.
While there is still work to be done, the law shepherded a new era in disability rights and it serves as a cornerstone in a foundation we continue to build upon today.
Throughout September, partners across the federal government and in the disability community marked the anniversary of the Rehab Act with events, articles, and more to explore where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going next.
These events have concluded, but we'll post links to recordings as they become available.
50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Past, Present and Future of Disability Rights in Housing
The Department of Housing and Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) featured a panel discussion with disability rights leaders to examine the early days of the disability rights movement, successes, emerging issues, and the continued need for vigorous enforcement of fair housing and civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination against disabled people and ensure equal opportunity. Speakers included: disability rights attorney John Wodatch, who was the principal author of the first federal regulations implementing section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Regina Blye, Chief Policy and Program Officer for the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation; Sean Barrett, Program Analyst, Compliance and Disability Rights Division, HUD FHEO; and Jeanine Worden, Associate General Counsel for Fair Housing at HUD.
ACL's DETAC: Commemorating the Rehabilitation Act: The Power of Independent Living & Employment
ACL's Disability Employment and Technical Assistance Center (DETAC) webinar focused on the power of the independent living movement in advancing disability employment. The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) and the RAMP Center for Independent Living will jointly reflect on successful strategies they adopted over the years to move people with disabilities out of institutions and to help them obtain and retain competitive, integrated employment.
White House Disability Policy Forum celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
On September 26, the White House hosted a virtual forum for the 50th Anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Senate Committee on Aging: Rehabilitation Act 50th Anniversary Roundtable Discussion
The Senate Committee on Aging hosted this event on September 27 in the Senate Visitor Center. Senator Casey provided remarks. The event was livestreamed.
Administration for Community Living: Exploring the past, present, and future of independent living: A two-part series
The first webinar focused on the origins, evolution, and current-day implications of the Rehab Act by highlighting the stories of key leaders who took part in the advocacy and direct actions that made its passage possible. The second webinar envisioned the future of the independent living movement by understanding the work of the next generation of youth and young leaders and how their voices and experiences are shaping its future.
- Part 1 Video: The Rehab Act at 50: Origins, Evolution, & Current Day
- Part 2 Video: The Rehab Act at 50: Our Future — Youth and Young Adult Engagement and Involvement in Disability Advocacy
Blogs & Materials
- Reinvigorating Implementation and Enforcement of the Rehab Act by Alison Barkoff
- Reinvigorating the Rehab Act’s Independent Living Programs: Partnerships to Accelerate Progress by Jill Jacobs, Commissioner of ACL’s Administration on Disabilities
- Reinvigorating the Rehab Act: Bringing “Nothing About Us Without Us” to the Research Enterprise by Anjali Forber-Pratt, Director of ACL’s National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research
Examining 50 Years of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Blog Series: “Advancing Access and Equity: Then, Now and Next.”
Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), U.S. Department of Labor
- Section 508 Blog— ODEP Senior Policy Advisor Nathan Cunningham interviews Sachin Pavithran, Executive Director of the U.S. Access Board, about the impact of Section 508. Enacted to ensure federal agencies’ information and communications technology is accessible to people with disabilities, Section 508 is an important part of the Rehab Act.
- Section 501 Blog— ODEP Chief of Staff Anupa Iyer Geevarghese interviews Associate Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Office of Federal Operations Dexter Brooks and former EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum about Section 501 of the Rehab Act and its important role in increasing access and equity for disabled people.
- Section 504 Blog— ODEP interviewed four diverse young people about the importance of Section 504 of the Rehab Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Each shared their perspective on how the laws have advanced access and equity for them individually and others with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any program or activity that is federally funded or conducted, and it helped lay the foundation for the ADA.
The 50th Anniversary of The Rehabilitation Act: Past Present and Future (Video)
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development honors the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act with this 30-minute video.
5 Ways the Rehabilitation Act Shapes FEMA and Creates a More Equitable Emergency Response Community
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Learn about the five ways the Rehabilitation Act shapes the work the agency does by visiting the FEMA Blog.
Get involved on social media using #RehabAct50 and #RehabAct.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy
- U.S. Department of Education, Rehabilitation Services Administration
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office for Civil Rights
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
- U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- U.S. Department of Justice
- Southeast ADA Center's Section 540 at 50
Thanks to the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy for allowing us use of its anniversary banner.