50th Anniversary of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

September 26th marks the 50th anniversary of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehabilitation Act) .  This landmark legislation was the first federal legislation to address access and equity for people with disabilities.

The Rehabilitation Act is landmark legislation, which changed the course of services and expanded the rights of individuals with disabilities in our nation. It set out the purpose, policy and principles that have continued to guide its implementation over the past 50 years.  The Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates affirmative action to promote the employment of individuals with disabilities in the federal government and federal contracts. The Rehabilitation Act also extends beyond employment to include education, transportation, and telecommunications accessibility.  

So, what has occurred over the Rehabilitation Act’s 50-year history? Some of the most significant high points include—

  • Individuals with the most significant disabilities are being served through Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) and supported employment programs to achieve competitive integrated employment, including supported employment, and customized employment;
  • Individualized services and informed choice have become cornerstones in the VR process, empowering individuals with disabilities to make informed decisions on their individualized employment plans for employment;
  • Competitive integrated employment has been defined as the goal of the VR and supported employment programs, removing segregated employment and employment at subminimum wage; and
  • Partnerships with workforce development, employers, state and federal agencies, educational agencies and stakeholder groups have enhanced resources and opportunities for collaboration leading to greater success and opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

As we head into October, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), let's commit to the work of ensuring that individuals with disabilities realize the hopes set out in the purpose, principles, and policy outlined in the Rehabilitation Act.