Disability Related Legal Resources
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- Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Fair Housing Act
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Local Laws and
Several federal, state, and local laws and regulations cover disability related grievances and discriminatory actions. This publication explains what agencies enforce specific disability related laws, where to file complaints, and the available legal resources.
Disability related discrimination complaints can be filed at the local, state, and federal levels. People with disabilities should carefully consider the nature of their complaint and gather information about applicable laws to determine where and how to file complaints. Information is power. The more people with disabilities know about the applicable laws, the better prepared they are to assure they are enforced.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 preceded the Americans with Disabilities Act and is applicable to all federal programs and programs that receive federal funding, such as housing programs, educational agencies, and colleges and universities.
Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service.
Each federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. For example, the U. S. Department of Education enforces Section 504 in educational settings. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter before going to court.
For information on how to file 504 complaints with the appropriate agency, contact
U.S. Department of Justice
1-800-514-0301, TTY 1-800-514-0383
Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section - NYAV
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530
Section 508 establishes requirements for electronic and information technology developed, maintained, procured, or used by the federal government. Section 508 requires federal electronic and information technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including employees and members of the public.
An accessible information technology system is one that can be operated in a variety of ways and does not rely on a single sense or ability of the user. For example, a system that provides output only in visual format may not be accessible to people with visual impairments and a system that provides output only in audio format may not be accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some individuals with disabilities may need accessibility-related software or peripheral devices in order to use systems that comply with Section 508.
For more information on section 508, contact the following.
United States Access
1-800-872-2253 TTY 1-800-993-2822
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law for persons with disabilities. The ADA defines disability as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; having a record of such impairment; or being regarded as having such impairment. The ADA does not specifically name the disabilities that it covers. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.
The ADA has five titles, or sections, which are as follows:
- Title I-Employment
- Title II-State and Local Governments
- Title III-Public Accommodations
- Title IV-Telecommunications
- Title V-Miscellaneous
The Department of Justice (DOJ) enforces all titles of the ADA, but focuses mainly on Titles II and III through the Disability Rights Section of its Civil Rights Division.
The ADA mandates the Department of Justice to educate and provide technical assistance to businesses, state and local governments, and individuals. The department can answer questions about the ADA, advise the public on rights and responsibilities under the law, and provide technical assistance materials. The DOJ maintains a toll-free ADA Information Line, ADA Internet Web site, and fax-on-demand service. However, they will not answer questions about employment and will refer callers to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (see Title I below).
One 800 number connects people with disabilities to the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the ADA Information Line, as does the website www.ada.gov.
U.S. Department of Justice
800-514-0301, TTY 800-514-0383
Mid-Atlantic ADA Center
ADA Information Line
Call to obtain answers to both general and technical questions about the ADA and to order ADA technical assistance materials. Spanish language available.
800-514-0301 TTY 800-514-0383
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is primarily, but not exclusively, responsible for handling complaints of employment discrimination and enforcing Title I of the ADA.
The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment related opportunities available to others. For example, it prohibits discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, pay, social activities, and other privileges of employment. It restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant's disability before a job offer is made, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless it results in undue hardship. (Note: See also the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission; Fairfax County prohibits discrimination in employment by employers having four or more employees).
Charges of employment discrimination based on disability may be filed at any U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) field office. Complaints must be filed within 180 days from the date of discrimination, or 300 days if the complaint is filed with a designated state or local fair employment agency. Individuals may file suit in Federal court only after they get a "right-to-sue" letter from the EEOC. Field office serving the Northern Virginia area is the Washington Field Office.
Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
800-669-4000, TTY 800-669-6820
Job Accommodation Network
Voice/TTY 800-526-7234, Voice/TTY 800-781-9403
Information about employment accommodations is available through the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is a telephone consulting service funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. It provides information and advice to employers and people with disabilities on reasonable accommodation in the workplace.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is primarily responsible for enforcing Title II. In addition, DOJ can assign Title II complaints to eight other federal agencies-the Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Humans Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Transportation-for resolution. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) oversees publicly operated paratransit complaints under Title II.
Title II covers all activities of state and local governments, no matter the size of the government or the money they receive from the federal government. Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services, and activities-for example, public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting, and town meetings.
State and local governments must follow specific standards when constructing new building or renovating existing ones. They also must relocate programs or otherwise provide access in inaccessible older buildings. They must communicate effectively with people who have hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
However, public entities are not required to take actions that would result in undue financial and administrative burdens. They are required to make reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures where necessary to avoid discrimination, unless they can demonstrate that doing so would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity being provided.
Complaints of Title II violations may be filed with the Department of Justice within 180 days of the date of discrimination. The Department may bring a lawsuit where it has investigated a matter and has been unable to resolve the violations of the ADA. Title II may also be enforced through private lawsuits in Federal court. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice or any other Federal agency, or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter, before going to court.
The Access Board offers technical assistance on the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).The Access Board is a Federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities to ensure access to federally funded facilities. The Board develops and maintains design criteria for the built environment, transit vehicles, telecom equipment, and electronic and information technology. It enforces accessibility standards for federally funded facilities.
United States Access Board
1-800-872-2253, TTY 1-800-993-2822
Title II of the ADA also covers public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit such as Metro, commuter rail, and Amtrak. Public transportation authorities may not discriminate against persons with disabilities. They must comply with requirements for accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, make good faith efforts to purchase or lease accessible used vehicles, and provide paratransit where they operate fixed-route bus or rail systems unless it would result in an undue burden.
Complaints against public transportation agencies must be filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration. Complaints about airlines, domestic or international, must also be filed with the Department of Transportation but with the Aviation Consumer Protection Division.
U.S. Department of Transportation
1-888-446-4511, TTY 1-800-877-8339
U.S. Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection Division
202-366-2220 TTY 202-366-0511
The Department of Justice (DOJ) is primarily responsible for enforcing Title III. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) oversees complaints against privately operated paratransit under Title III.
The ADA covers public accommodations. Public accommodations are private entities which own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors’ offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities, including sports stadiums and fitness clubs.
Public accommodations must not exclude, segregate, or treat unequally people with disabilities. They must also comply with specific requirements related to architectural standards for new and altered buildings; reasonable modifications to policies, practices, and procedures; effective communication with persons with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities; and other access requirements. Additionally, public accommodations must remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without difficulty or expense, given the public accommodation’s resources.
Courses and examinations related to professional, educational, or
trade-related applications, licensing, certifications, or credentialing
must be provided in a place and manner accessible to people with
disabilities, or alternative accessible arrangements must be
Commercial facilities, such as factories and warehouses, must comply with the ADA's architectural standards for new construction and alterations.
Complaints of title III violations may be filed with the Department of Justice. In certain situations, cases may be referred to a mediation program sponsored by the Department. The Department is authorized to bring a lawsuit where there is a pattern or practice of discrimination in violation of title III, or where an act of discrimination raises an issue of general public importance. Title III may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with the Department of Justice (or any Federal agency), or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter, before going to court.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) handles issues related to Title IV of the ADA. Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires telephone companies to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TRS enables callers with hearing and speech disabilities who use text telephones (TTY's or TDD's), and callers who use voice telephones, to communicate with each other through a third party communications assistant. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set minimum standards for TRS services. Title IV also requires closed captioning of federally funded public service announcements.
Federal Communications Commission
888-225-5322, TTY 888-835-5322
The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin. It covers private housing, housing that receives federal financial assistance, and state and local government housing. It is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of he or anyone associated with the transaction has a disability. Financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising must also not be discriminatory.
The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford persons with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to allow a guide dog for a tenant who is blind. The Fair Housing Act also requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make access-related modifications to their private living space or common use spaces, although often that must be done at the tenants’ expense. The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with 4 or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to maneuver, and other features within the units that can be adapted.
Complaints of Fair Housing Act violation may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Office of Program Compliance and Disability Rights
Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
451 7th Street SW, Room 5242
Washington, DC 20410
800-669-9777; TTY -800-927-9275
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment that also meets their individual needs.
If a child is found eligible to receive special education services, IDEA requires public school systems to develop an Individualized Education Programs (IEP’s) for that child. The IEP needs to state what specific special education and related services will be provided to meet the individualized needs of that student. An IEP team develops the IEP; the team includes at a minimum a general educator, special educator, principal, and parent; others who know the child can also participate. An IEP team should include the child if he is older than 14. The IEP can be reviewed and revised by the IEP team at any time, but at a minimum must be reviewed annually.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act includes due process rights and procedural safeguards. Parents must receive a copy of those rights each time that the IEP team meets or some action takes place—for example, to evaluate a child for eligibility for special education or to change the setting where the child receives her education. If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, and matters cannot be resolved with school officials at the local level, they can request a due process hearing or mediation. The request for a due process hearing must be made in writing and addressed to the local school system; a copy should be sent to the Virginia Department of Education. If someone believes that the local school system is not providing special education to eligible students properly, one can file an administrative complaint with the state’s educational agency.
Virginia Department of Education
1-800-292-3820, TTY 711
The federal agency in charge of compliance with IDEA is the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. They also monitor states to determine if they comply with the law and provide technical assistance to states and local school systems.
Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center (PEATC)
703-923-0010, TTY 711
The Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs (OHREP) is composed of the Human Rights Division (HRD) and the Equity Programs Division (EPD). The vision of OHREP is to promote justice, equal opportunity, diversity and inclusiveness by protecting the civil rights of all in Fairfax County.
The Human Rights Division (HRD) enforces the Fairfax County
Human Rights Ordinance and civil rights laws including the ADA in
private facilities and businesses within the county. HRD receives
and investigates complaints filed by a person who believes he/she has
been discriminated against in Fairfax County by a private business or
organization in violation of the county’s Human Rights Ordinance. If
you like additional information about the HRD or believe that you have
been discriminated against because of your disability by a private
business or organization, visit the Human Rights
The Equity Programs Division (EPD) administers the County’s
Equal Employment Enforcement (EEO) program and enforces provisions of
the ADA in Fairfax County government. If you feel that you have been
denied a county service or physical access to a county facility, or
would like additional information about the EPD, visit the Equity
Various other federal, state, and local agencies serve as advocates for persons with disabilities. They can also be a source of information and receive complaints for discriminatory action.
The Disability Law Center of Virginia
The Disability Law Center of Virginia provides assistance for disability related problems such as abuse, neglect, and discrimination. The state and federal programs fund its mission to promote independence, choice, and self-determination of persons with a disability. The Disability Law Center of Virginia handles problems related to education, residential care, training centers, community rehabilitation programs, infant programs, and activity centers. It can be a resource for advocacy and/or legal representation.
Legal Services of Northern Virginia
1-866-534-5243, TTY 711
Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV) is a non-profit law firm with offices throughout Northern Virginia that provides free legal assistance on civil matters to income-eligible residents who have mental or physical disabilities. Without legal assistance, these residents would lose a critical human need such as food, shelter, income, medical care, or personal safety. They handle civil cases involving child advocacy, consumer law, employment law, housing law, Medicare, Medicaid, and public benefits. LSNV’s website includes links to public forms covering a wide assortment of subjects pertaining to legal assistance.
Fairfax Lawyer Referral and Information Service
703-246-2740, TTY 711; Fax: 703-273-1274
For a modest fee, the Fairfax Lawyer Referral and Information Service will determine your legal needs, if any, and refer you to an appropriate Fairfax County lawyer.