An Overview of Disability Rights Laws
Last updated: December 2022
The US government has many laws that protect and support rights for disabled persons. People with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) have certain rights under these laws.1,2
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most well-known laws that protects people with disabilities. It is focused on accessibility in several major areas:1
- ADA Title I: Employment – prohibits discrimination in hiring or at your job based on a disability.
- ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities – prohibits discrimination in state and local organizations, like schools.
- ADA Title II: Public Transportation – this part of title II requires accessibility for transportation like buses and trains.
- ADA Title III: Public Accommodations – requires accessibility in public places like schools or restaurants.
- ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services – requires telephone companies to implement a service called TTY for people with hearing and speech disabilities. TTY enables you to send and receive text using a phone line.
For more information on the ADA, you can1:
The telecommunications act applies to companies that make telecommunications equipment, like phones. Under this act, the companies have to make the equipment accessible for users with disabilities. For more information, visit the Disability Rights Office website.1,3
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination of any kind in housing. It makes it illegal to not sell or rent to someone based on factors like:1
The Fair Housing Act includes other protections for people with disabilities who rent. They are allowed service animals in “no pets” apartments. They also are allowed to make accessibility modifications if needed. 1
For more information, visit the US Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity website.1,4
Air Carrier Access Act
The Air Carrier Access Act prohibits discrimination in air travel. This means airlines must make sure that anyone with a disability can still fly. For more information, visit the government transportation website.1,5
Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act and National Voter Registration Act
The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act requires polling places in the United States to be physically accessible to all. If this is not possible, there must be an alternative voting method available.1
The National Voter Registration Act’s purpose is also to make it easier for Americans to vote. It requires states to provide voter registration forms and help with completing forms.1
For more information on both laws, visit the Department of Justice website.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act applies to public schools. It requires public schools to provide a free public education to children with disabilities. This law requires each child to have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a plan that outlines the accommodations each child needs. For more information, visit the Office of Special Education Programs website.1,6
The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disabilities in many federal areas. These areas include:1
- Federal programs
- Programs that receive federal funding
- Federal contracting jobs
There are several sections of the Rehabilitation Act that may help you:1
- Section 501 prohibits discrimination in jobs at any federal agency.
- Section 504 requires programs that receive federal funding to be accessible to everyone and not discriminate.
- Section 508 applies to any electronics used, made, or maintained by the federal government. This section requires these electronics to be accessible.
Architectural Barriers Act
The Architectural Barriers Act requires any buildings that use federal funds to meet standards for accessibility. For example, post office buildings fall under this law. For more information, visit the US Access Board website.1,7
The laws outlined here are all federal laws. That means they apply everywhere in the United States. But individual states may have their own laws for people with disabilities. Learn more about laws that affect people with disabilities by state.8
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