Disability Rights and You

Simplifying Disability Policies: Section 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act


This article intends to inform readers of basic concepts and resources to help understand disability policies. Specifically, Sections 504 and 508 of the RehabilitationAct (RA) and Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be simplified . This article will not be an all encompassing document for these items. If you have further questions, feel free to contact your local Center for Independent Living (CIL) or contact the Statewide Independent Living Council. (SILCK).

The intended audience for this document includes, but not limited to:

  • Individuals with disabilities
  • Employers, human resources professionals, and supervisors
  • Support systems and individuals interested in disability policies

If you feel your rights have been violated or have legal questions regarding defense, please Review the following resources:

Equal Opportunity Commission Complaint Process

RehabilitationAct (RA)

Originally passed in 1973, the RA provided the first concrete series of policies and regulations ensuring those with disabilities equal access to federal and state resources and services. These provisions established the framework for actions like the ADA and the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to arise. A common misconception involves the breath of the RA. Any federal agency, recipient of federal funds, and state and local governmental bodies must comply with the RA. It is only encouraged that private sector businesses and facilities fully adhere to the RA. The only exemption stems from times when making an item accessible dramatically interferes with the ability for the entity to operate.

References related to the Rehabilitation Services Act

Section 504:

Section 504 encapsulates all items related to accessibility of structures, services, printed materials, other non-electronic based or digital communications, and similar items to any federal agency, recipient of federal funds, and any state and local governmental body. This law ensures that each of these entities draft and adhere to their own variant of 504 compliance. Prosecution for violations against Section 504 may be filed with Equal Opportunity Counsellors or through private lawsuits.

Within businesses, schools, public buildings, private establishments, many adaptations appear that promotes an inclusive environment. Some of these have been built into new building codes, while others have been accomplished as part of good business practices. Below is a list of just some of the methods Section 504 appears in the everyday world:

  • Room numbers and/or names marked with clear, bold, and highly visible print
  • Braille or raised lettering accompanying signs
  • elevators that provide auditory signals via speech or beeps when arriving, departing, and for each floor
  • Stairways and ramps that possess tactile and contrast strips at the top and bottom
  • Hallways, doorways, and corners provide clearance for wheelchairs
  • Bathrooms, kitchenettes, water fountains , and similar locations are designed to accommodate mobility impairments
  • Emergency notification systems issue alerts through visual and auditory cues

Section 504 also includes accessibility of varying forms of non-digital or electronic material like paper handouts and similar materials. Some specific examples includes the following:

  • Printed material possesses alternatives like large print, braille, or are in accessible digital formats
  • Auditory or verbal communications occur in noise free environments or through a sign language interpreter
  • Requested material is provided in a timely manner and in the desired format selected by a disabled individual

References related to Section 504:

Section 508

Similar to Section 504, Section 508 requires all federal, state, and subsidiary entities to establish practices and publish all electronic information technology and digital mediums in accessible methods. This means that a disabled individual must be able to access content or services comparable as any other individual. A recent example of this involves the captcha implemented by the WhiteHouse.gov polling site. For those reliant on screen readers, the feature was completely inaccessible, leading to an outcry by all disability organizations. Similarly, the Blinded Veterans Association testified in a Congressional Hearing on the usability concerns of many Department of Veterans Affairs webpages.

Prosecution for 508 compliancy offenses may be filed within EEOC departments or through private lawsuits.

Listed below are a few examples of Section 508 compliance:

  • digital content that does not rely on the usage of one sensory system (i.e. tactile, auditory, or visual)
  • Websites that implement heading structures, landmarks, and descriptive links and images
  • multimedia with closed captioning or descriptive video content
  • Adaptive software available like screen readers, magnifiers, and TTY systems

Often times, employers wonder how to ensure an inclusive environment for both employees and consumers. Primary concerns revolve around cost to implement strategies or provide adaptive solutions. The below array of resources will help individuals identify appropriate assistive technologies, understand reasonable accommodations, and how to obtain help:

References related to Section 508:

Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Title IV dramatically differs from the Sections 504 and 508. The Federal Communications Commission devised and executes this policy. Entitled the “Telecommunications Services for Hearing Impaired and Speech Impaired Individuals,” it requires various telecommunications services possess alternative methods for these disabilities to participate.

The breath of Title IV differs dramatically than the previously reviewed Sections 504 and 508. Title IV resides within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), thus pressing these regulations upon all entities in the United States that utilize telecommunications as a key requirement for services. Remember that Section 504 and 508 form two parts of the RA, thus limited to federal and state organizations and services.

Below are some examples of how Title IV appears in everyday situations:

  • Text Telephone (TTY) and Telephonic Relay Services (TRS) for business and personal telephone communications
  • Individuals using texting services for emergency services
  • Closed captioning during television and other video based content
  • Conferences and presentations with sign language interpreters

References for Title IV: