50 years after its being enacted, significant updates are being made to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to advance equity and bolster protections for people with disabilities. In fact, on September 7, 2023 the Biden-Harris Administration took further action on its commitment to promote access to health care and human services for persons with disabilities as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through its Office for Civil Rights (OCR), announced a proposed rule that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  The rule, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance, updates critical provisions that help persons with disabilities access health and human services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The rule, originally published in 1977, advances the promise of the Rehabilitation Act and helps to ensure that people with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination in any program or activity receiving funding from HHS just because they have a disability. 

Section 504 prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance or are conducted by a Federal agency. Since the law was enacted, major legislative and judicial developments have shifted the legal landscape of disability discrimination under Section 504.

HHS is proposing to amend the regulations to update them and clarify obligations in several crucial areas not explicitly addressed in the current regulations, and to improve consistency with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, and significant case law.

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) clarifies the application of Section 504 to several critical areas. The proposed rule:
-Ensures that medical treatment decisions are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual will be a burden on others, or beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability;
-Clarifies obligations for web, mobile, and kiosk accessibility;
-Establishes enforceable standards for accessible medical equipment;
-Clarifies requirements in HHS-funded child welfare programs and activities;
-Prohibits the use of value assessment methods that place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities when that method is used to limit access or to deny aids, benefits, and services.
-Clarifies obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities.

While the HHS is undertaking this rulemaking the current regulation is in effect. If you believe that you or another party has been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability, visit the OCR complaint portal to file a complaint online at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/filing-a-complaint/index.html.

HHS encourages all stakeholders to submit comments through regulations.gov.

Public comments on the NPRM are due 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register. The NPRM may be viewed or downloaded at the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2023-19149/discrimination-on-the-basis-of-disability-in-health-and-human-service-programs-or-activities.

A fact sheet on the NPRM is available at: https://www.hhs.gov/civil-rights/for-individuals/disability/section-504-rehabilitation-act-of-1973/fact-sheet/index.html.

The Fact Sheet is available in the following languages. Click to view:
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For more information visit: https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/09/07/hhs-issues-new-proposed-rule-to-strengthen-prohibitions-against-discrimination-on-basis-of-disability-in-health-care-and-human-services-programs.html.