The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on a person’s disability in any program or activity that receives federal funding. It also covers disability discrimination in employment with federal agencies, in programs that are conducted by federal agencies, and with federal contractors.

Thus, the Rehabilitation Act is extremely broad, covering quite literally everything that receives federal funds, from airports to universities.

How Does the Rehabilitation Act Define “Disability”?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act defines "disability" as any physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits one or more major life activities”. Individuals with a history of their specific impairment or who are regarded as having an impairment will also be extended protection.

Naturally, in order to ensure anyone who is disable is offered protection, the Rehabilitation Act does not list specific illnesses or impairments. Notwithstanding, some impairments that qualify for disability under Section 504 include:

  • Physiological disorders, such as hearing impairments, vision impairments, impairments of motor functions, or issues with cellular growth.
  • Neurological disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy
  • Psychological disorders, for example learning disabilities or other mental illnesses

Since the Rehabilitation Act does not list any specific illnesses, the deciding factor in determining disability is whether the impairment limits the person’s major life activities, such as performing physical tasks, working, walking, speaking, learning, eating, or breathing. Impairment is typically shown through a variety of documents, such as medical records, in support of their claims.

What Are Differences and Similarities between the Rehabilitation Act and Other Disability Acts?


Basically, the Rehabilitation Act covers any situation where federal money is involved, regardless of whether they are operated by public or private institutions.

The other major disability act is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA also covers public entities and some private entities, however these entities need not receive federal funding. Therefore, the ADA is somewhat broader than the Rehabilitation Act.


Interestingly, Title II of the ADA defines individuals with a disability in basically the same way as the Rehabilitation Act. Meaning that an individual with any physical or mental impairment that “substantially limits” one or more major life activities, or has a history of such impairment, or, a person who is regarded as being impaired, will fit the definition of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the ADA.

Should I Contact a Lawyer for a Disability Claim?

Proving a disability discrimination claim can involve a review of several factors, since not all disabilities are the same. If you feel that you have been discriminated against based on a disability, you may wish to speak with an employment lawyer for advice. Your attorney may be able to help you assemble the documents required for filing a claim and can advise you on the details of the various disabilities acts that may apply to your claim.