HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra Statement on the 50th Anniversary of Signing of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

“Fifty years ago, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Rehab Act) was signed into law, marking a turning point in our nation’s civil rights history. The Rehab Act authorized services that support disabled people in living the lives they want to lead, fully included in their communities. The law established accessibility standards for information technology, which are crucial in today’s high-tech world, and more. 

“Perhaps most important, the Rehab Act was the first federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Although it would be another four years before the regulations were established to implement them, those civil rights provisions represent a watershed moment for the independent living movement, which was then in its infancy. The Rehab Act paved the way – and provided a model – for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which extended anti-discrimination protections beyond the federal government, and other federal laws and actions to guarantee the rights of people with disabilities.  

None of these achievements would have happened without the relentless advocacy of disabled people. Led by people like the late Judy Heumann, whose tenacity and total commitment to the rights of people with disabilities led her to become known as “the mother” of the disability rights movement people with disabilities, their families, and other advocates came together and changed our country in a fundamental way.  

“These issues are personal to me. I began my career by providing legal aid to cases involving people with intellectual disabilities. During my time as Attorney General of California, I established a Bureau of Disability rights and made it a priority to focus on protecting and advancing the rights of people with disabilities. Disability rights are civil rights, and you can count on me to continue the fight for them.

“While we have made great strides in disability rights, we still have work to do. Disabled people still face discrimination and barriers to exercising their basic civil rights. That’s why the Biden-Harris Administration specifically recognized disabled people in its executive order on advancing equity and has prioritized strengthening civil rights protections for people with disabilities. And that’s why HHS has proposed comprehensive updates to our regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehab Act, which will be a critical tool for fighting disability discrimination.  

“I am deeply grateful for their work. Today, we reach for the next step - equitable access to our health care and human services system for all individuals with disabilities.”

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