Laws, Regulations & Guidelines
This page provides an overview of accessibility laws, regulations and guidelines that pertain to the civil rights and access needs of people with disabilities across a variety of contexts.
For more specific information about laws, regulations and guidelines within early learning, K-12 (including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA), higher education and workforce development settings, please also make sure to visit the following pages:
Civil Rights and Anti-Discrimination Laws
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. 12102(2)(A))
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Its overall purpose is to make American Society more accessible to people with disabilities. In 2008, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Its purpose is to broaden the definition of disability, which had been narrowed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
- Title I of the ADA is designed to help people with disabilities access the same employment opportunities and benefits available to people without disabilities, including through the provision of reasonable accommodations to qualified applicants and employees.
- Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all programs, activities and services from public entities, including state and local governments. Public K-12 schools are covered under this title.
- Title III prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in private places of public accommodation, including private schools, movie theaters, stadiums and the like.
- Title IV of the ADA requires a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services for people with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. It also requires closed captioning of federally-funded public service announcements.
- Title V of the ADA addresses a variety of miscellaneous topics that relate to the ADA as a whole, such as protections against retaliation and coercion for people who initiate ADA complaints, how lawyer's fees should be handled and so on.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often just called the “Rehab Act”) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies; programs that receive federal financial assistance; in federal employment; and in the employment practices of federal contractors.
- Section 501 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector.
- Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits federal contractors (or subcontractors) from discriminating against applicants and employees with disabilities and requires affirmative steps to hire, retain and promote qualified people with disabilities. Under its affirmative action requirements, Section 503 has a 7% representation goal for employees with disabilities.
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against qualified people with disabilities by any program or activity that receives federal funding, including K-12 schools and institutions of higher education.
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires federal agencies’ information and communications technology to be accessible to people with disabilities, including members of the public as well as federal employees.
Accessibility Standards and Laws
W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
The Web Content Accessibilty Guidelines (WCAG) are widely regarded as the international standard for Web accessibility. They are the basis for many national accessibility laws, including Section 508 in the United States.
Access for all people, including people with disabilities, to web environments.View in glossary
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.View in glossary
Work performed for compensation, at location, and with opportunities for advancement similar to those who are not individuals with disabilities.View in glossary
Equipment or system where principal function is creation, conversion, duplication, control, display, interchange, transmission, reception, or broadcast of data.View in glossary
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Refresh
The US Access Board jointly refreshed Section 508 of the Rehab Act and Section 255 of the Telecommunication Act. The Final Rule jointly updates Section 508 and Section 255 guidelines and synchronizes with other standards for ICT and web content such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).
The Assistive Technology Act was first passed by Congress as the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988 and has been reauthorized in 1994, 1998, and 2004. The AT Act provides funding to states to increase access, availability, and funding for assistive technology. State AT Act Projects provide services to persons with disabilities across the lifespan, as well as to their families or guardians, service providers, and agencies.
On October 8, 2010, President Obama signed the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) into law. The CVAA updates federal communications law to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. The CVAA makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.
- Title I – Communications Access, including text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, and video communications services and mobile web browsers.
- Title II – Video Programming, including a requirement for video programming that is closed captioned on TV to be closed captioned when distributed on the Internet.
Telecommunications Act of 1996
An Act to promote competition and reduce regulation in order to secure lower prices and higher quality services for American telecommunications consumers and encourage the rapid deployment of new telecommunications technologies.
- Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 – access by persons with disabilities
- Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 Refresh – Final Rule