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Following are legislative milestones in the movement toward independence for persons with disabilities:


Rehabilitation Act Amendments: The Client Assistance Program was established under Title I as a formula grant program. Grants were intended to assist states to inform and advise people with disabilities and other individuals who are receiving rehabilitation services about how to access available benefits, and ensure protection of individual rights through legal, administrative or other remedies.

1983 Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act: Ensured that all polling places are accessible.

Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals: Established a formula grant program for statewide mental health advocacy services. These services could be operated directly by or contracted through the state protection and advocacy system; and are intended to protect and advocate for the rights of people with mental illness, and investigate incidents of abuse and neglect.


Rehabilitation Act: The 1973 Act was completely rewritten to place stronger emphasis on providing rehabilitation services to people with severe disabilities.

Title I authorizes formula grants to state vocational rehabilitation agencies to provide the following services: diagnosis and evaluation; counseling, guidance, referral and placement; vocational and other training; physical and mental restoration services; income maintenance; interpreter and reader services; orientation and mobility services; transportation; technological aids and devices; and rehabilitation engineering services. Vocational rehabilitation agencies were required to develop an "individualized written rehabilitation program" (IWRP) jointly with each individual receiving services.

Rehabilitation Act Amendments: Required states to show that policies exist regarding the order in which individuals are selected to receive services ("order of selection" process) and to justify those policies; include in the state plan a plan for youth transition to employment; and reflect how the supported employment program would be implemented in the state. The definition of "severe handicap" was amended to include both functional and categorical criteria, and a definition of "employability" was added.



Air Carrier Access Act: Amended the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 to prohibit discrimination against "any otherwise qualified handicapped individual" in the provision of air transportation.

The Civil Aeronautics Board Sunset Act of 1984 also amended the Federal Aviation Act to require the Board to consult with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board prior to making any revisions in the regulations or procedures related to air carrier access for people with disabilities.


Civil Rights Restoration Act: Clarified that any organization or corporation receiving federal funds may not discriminate in any of their programs


Fair Housing Act Amendments: Added language to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing. Under these amendments, discrimination included refusing to allow people with disabilities to make reasonable accommodations, at their own expense, in order to realize the "full enjoyment of the premises;" refusal to make common areas readily accessible to and useable by people with disabilities; refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies and services so that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to use and enjoy the premises.

Committee reports contain explicit language about how Congress expected these provisions to be interpreted and enforced. For example, local zoning ordinances could not be used to deny housing for people with mental or developmental disabilities.


Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This landmark federal legislation provides a "clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." The ADA is divided into four main titles:

Title I prohibits discriminatory employment practices;

Title II prohibits discrimination in public services, including transportation, and applies to all state and local agencies not just federally funded activities;

Title III prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and services that are operated by private entities;

Title IV requires telephone companies that serve the general public to also provide interstate and intrastate telecommunication relay services for persons who are deaf, hearing or speech impaired, and requires closed captioning of all public service announcements that are produced or funded by a federal agency.


Civil Rights Act: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to protect covered workers in employment discrimination cases and allow the award of monetary damages for intentional discriminatory acts based on sex, religion, or disability.


Rehabilitation Act Amendments: Title I contains a presumption that individuals with disabilities, including individuals with severe disabilities, are "capable of engaging in gainful employment, and the provision of individualized vocational rehabilitation services can improve their ability to be gainfully employed" (Section 100). Title VII establishes standards and assurances for independent living centers and includes a statement of the independent living philosophy:

"Consumer control of the center regarding decision-making, service delivery, management, and establishment of the policy and direction of the center; self-help and self-advocacy; development of peer relationships and peer role models; and equal access of individuals with severe disabilities to society and to all services, programs, activities, resources, and facilities, whether public or private and regardless of the funding source" (Section 725).