Introduction: Know Your Rights as a Disabled American
In the United States, the rights of disabled people are protected by a variety of laws and a vast network of nonprofit advocacy groups. One of the most significant pieces of legislation, and often the most familiar, is the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, other important laws offer further protection to the disabled in the workplace, in housing, in travel, and in many other aspects of life. All public services, and a huge range of transactions in the private sphere, are touched by federal and state laws that provide for non-discrimination to the disabled. Likewise, there are independent agencies around the country devoted to legal advocacy for the disabled community. The resources below are intended to help disabled people know and protect their rights.
Disabled Rights Legislation
Federal legislation forms the cornerstone of the modern quest for full civil rights for disabled Americans. Today, the disabled population is guaranteed non-discrimination and rights of access in situations across the spectrum of daily life. Most of these rights are delineated in the Americans with Disabilities Act, but there is an important collection of other legislation disabled people should be familiar with.
Americans With Disabilities Act: Official site of the ADA with full text, analysis, information on enforcement, and links to government agencies with designated responsibilities under the Act.
A Guide to Disability Rights Laws: Overview of rights granted to disabled persons under various pieces of legislation, with links and contact information to find out more about given laws and the agencies that enforce them. From the Federal Citizen Information Center of the U.S. General Services Administration.
Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Information on legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability for employers with federal contracts.
Government Disabled Rights Initiatives
A large number of federal agencies are given certain responsibilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act or other legislation. There are also several federal organizations devoted specifically and only to promoting disabled rights. These each offer vital information on filing a discrimination complaint within their field of influence, as well as instructions on how to obtain other disabled rights resources.
Disability.gov: Government clearinghouse of disability rights information including resources on finding a job, learning about disability laws, starting a business, finding health care, applying for disability benefits, and many other subjects.
National Council on Disability: Website of an independent federal agency that advises Congress and the president on policy matters related to disabled people. Offers a newsletter and a variety of informative publications.
United States Access Board: Website of the federal agency that provides standards to ensure physical accessibility of the “built environment”, including buildings, vehicles, communications equipment, and information technology.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: Enforces federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of race, religion, national origin, color, age, gender, genetic makeup or disability. Includes information on laws, enforcement, litigation, and much more.
Federal Transit Administration: ADA Compliance: Information on nondiscriminatory public transportation in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Fair Housing: Equal opportunity housing information, including resources on filing a housing-related discrimination complaint, and thorough resources on disability rights related to housing.
Aviation Consumer Protection Division: Information on disability rights related to air travel throughout the United States.
Office of Special Education Programs: Information and resources related to improving educational access for students who suffer from disabilities.
Department of Justice Civil Rights Division: Disability Rights Section: Offers a variety of Internet resources related to understanding the implications of the ADA.
Federal Communications Commission: Disability Rights Office: Provides a range of information related to improving accessibility and the exercise of disabled rights over the public airwaves, via closed captioning, on the Internet, and more.
Job Accommodation Network: Service of the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy that aims to facilitate employment for disabled people with job site accommodations such as assistive technology and other measures.
Disabled Rights Advocacy Groups
There are a number of independent nonprofit organizations that work toward greater disabled rights. These include nonprofit law firms, referral services, charities that support disabled entrepreneurship or other forms of public participation, and more.
Disability Rights Advocates: A nonprofit law firm that exclusively deals with litigation, research, and education related to securing disability rights. Offers publications related to its litigation, investigations, and other projects.
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund: National civil rights law and policy center focused on securing and expanding the civil rights of the disabled population. Maintains detailed position statements and news updates on various disabled rights issues.
National Disability Rights Network: Provides legal advocacy services for disabled people around the United States. The organization is the centerpiece of a large number of state and regional Protection and Advocacy Systems and Client Assistance Programs throughout the country.
The Council for Disability Rights: Nonprofit organization aiming to advance disability rights. Handles a range of information and referral services for helping disabled persons to know and protect their rights.
Disability Rights Fund: Aims to advance the goals of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by connecting members of the disabled community with grant donors to achieve greater equality and accessibility.
National Network of ADA Centers: Helps connect disabled people with Americans With Disabilities Act enforcement and information services in their area. Includes contact and Internet information for the nation’s regional ADA centers.
Mental Disability Rights International: International human rights organization focused on protecting the mentally disabled and expanding their access to participation in society.
Disabled Rights State Organizations
Under current disability rights legislation, every state has a federally designated independent nonprofit that serves as the organization of record for public advocacy, outreach, and protective services that affect the disabled community. These organizations have a broad reach and scope, and each one offers a selection of free services. Aside from these, a number of other established nonprofits serve the disabled from state to state.
Disabled Rights Action Committee: Utah-based nonprofit organization that advocates for expansion of disabled rights. Known for its bus boycott that led to accessible modernization of the Utah Transit Authority bus fleet in the 1980s.
Disability Rights North Carolina: Education and legal advocacy organization based in North Carolina.
Disability Rights Center of Maine: Independent agency formed to protected the rights of disabled people in Maine. Offers a newsletter and a variety of programs.
Disability Rights New Jersey: Designated protection and advocacy nonprofit operating throughout the state of New Jersey. Offers a large number of publications, position statements, news on various issues, and services.
Disability Rights Washington: Provider of free advocacy services to disabled people in Washington state. Offers a range of tools, including extensive resources for protecting and expanding the rights of disabled youths.
Disabled Rights California: Offers legislative advocacy, investigation, public outreach, patients’ rights protection and other services for the disabled population of California.
Arkansas Disability Rights Center: In addition to advocacy and informational services, offers an index of cases that affect the rights of people with disabilities and verified Internet sources for attorney referral.
Disabilities Rights Center of New Hampshire: Various legal and informational resources on special education, employment, housing, assistive technology, and other issues related to disability discrimination.
Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania: Designated federally-mandated organization for the protection of human, civil, and legal rights for disabled persons in Pennsylvania.
Other Disabled Rights Resources
Other disability rights organizations include those associated with university research centers, nonprofits offering other services not covered above, and those related to international organizations such as the United Nations. These organizations vary widely in their scope and aims.
Disability Rights Law Resources: Index of Internet resources including case law, legislation and more. Includes information at both the federal and state level, and several organizations focused on disabled rights. Provided by the Southern Illinois University Law Library.
Disability Rights Links and Documents: Informational resources from the attorney general of the state of Illinois.
Cornell University Employment and Disability Institute: Focuses on news and policy issues related to ensuring full and discrimination-free employment to people with disabilities.
UN Enable – Promoting the Rights of Persons With Disabilities: News and other resources from the United Nations related to their disability initiatives and to disabled human rights around the world.
Disability Rights Legal Center: Nonprofit public outreach and legal services initiative operated in cooperation with Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California.
("Legal information found on this page does not constitute legal advice.")