What laws protect the rights of people with disabilities in the United States?

There are several federal civil rights laws that cover the rights and responsibilities of people with disabilities, public/private entities, and service providers. These laws prevent discrimination based on disability and provide for equal access to education, employment, commerce, housing, healthcare, and government services. The following are just some of those laws:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life. This includes jobs, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. It also guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities have the opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, just like other children. Under IDEA, schools are required to find and evaluate students who may have disabilities and then provide the students with special education and related services, such as speech therapy, to meet their unique needs. IDEA also gives parents a voice in their child’s education.
  • Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance. It works with the ADA and IDEA to protect people with disabilities from exclusion and from unequal treatment in schools, jobs, and the community. Section 504 also defines the rights of people with disabilities to participate in, and have access to, program benefits and services.
  • The Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing. This includes people with disabilities.
  • The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) addresses improvements to voting systems and voter access that were identified following the 2000 election. This includes access to voter registration, polling locations, and ballots.

For more than 25 years, NIDILRR has funded research, development, and technical assistance projects that focus on the civil rights of people with disabilities. Currently, NIDILRR funds ten regional ADA centers that make up the ADA National Network. These centers offer information and technical assistance to help people with disabilities, business owners, and public entities to understand their rights and responsibilities under the ADA. Please visit the ADA National Network to find the center which serves your region or call 800/949-4ADA (4232) to speak with a representative for your area.

The NARIC collection includes over 300 articles on the civil rights of people with disabilities published by NIDILRR grantees and others. If you would like to search our collection for civil rights-related articles, please utilize REHABDATA or contact our information specialists via email, chat, or phone at 800/346-2742. If you would like to learn more about other federal civil rights laws, please visit The Arc’s page on public policy and legal advocacy. If you would like to learn more about civil rights laws in your state, please contact the Center for Independent Living nearest you.