Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - Key Features and Background

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: July 08, 2009
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The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title V was put in place to correct the problem of discrimination against people with disabilities in the United States. Action programs were established in Title V under Sections 501, 502, 503, and 504. Individuals who qualify as having a disability have experienced discrimi-nation both because of negative attitudes in regard to their ability to be an effective employee, as well as the physical barriers at work facilities.

Key Features
The Title V of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act requires:

  • Private employers with federal contracts over USD 2,500 to take affirmative action to hire indi-viduals with a mental or physical disability.
  • While employers are urged to make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees they are not expected to hire unqualified individuals.
  • There are additional sections of the Act that provide vocational counseling, training assistance and job placement for individuals with severe disabilities.

In the context of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, the term "disabled individual" means "any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment." This defi-nition is closely related to the definition provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Legislative History of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR)

  1. The Smith-Fess Act of 1920 marked the beginning of the public rehabilitation program for persons with disabilities. Funds were provided for vocational guidance, training, occupational adjustment, prosthetics, and placement services.
  2. The Randolph-Sheppard Act of 1936 provided the opportunity for persons who were blind to be licensed to operate vending stands in federal buildings.
  3. The Vocational Rehabilitation Amendments of 1943 expanded services to include physical restoration and also required states to submit a written state plan to the federal government. In addition, provisions were expanded to include service to persons with mental retardation and mental illness.
  4. The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1954 made major changes to financing provisions. Provision was also made for training grants for VR agency staff.
  5. The Vocational Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1965 expanded services to reach a broader population; as examples, persons with a substance abuse history and those with socially handicapping conditions. Economic need was eliminated.
  6. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 changed the name of the legislation from the Vocational Rehabilitation Act to the Rehabilitation Act. A priority to serve persons with severe disabilities was mandated. The establishment of the Individual Written Rehabilitation Program (IWRP) was a major step to ensure the enhanced involvement of the consumer in developing a rehabilitation plan of action.
  7. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1978 responded to consumer concerns for added involvement by the establishment of independent living centers.
  8. The Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1986 enhanced support for rehabilitation engineering, with clear definitions for rehabilitation engineering services. In addition, support for special projects and demonstrations in supported employment were established.
  9. The 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act clearly outlined the intent of the Congress to ensure consumer choice in career opportunities, with competitive employment the desired outcome.

Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.
  • It is a civil-rights provision. It does not provide funding for any programs or activities but is a requirement that accompanies federal financial assistance to not-for-profit organizations such as schools and universities.
  • It defines the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in, and have access to, program benefits and services.
  • Section 504 forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with dis-abilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services.
  • The nondiscrimination requirements of the law apply to employers and organizations that receive financial assistance from any Federal department or agency, including the U.S. Depart-ment of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
  • Any not-for-profit organization that receives federal grants - for any purpose - must comply with section 504. These organizations and employers include many hospitals, nursing homes, mental health centers and human service programs.

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act does not require employers to hire or retain a disabled person if the individual has a contagious disease that poses a direct threat to the health and safety of others and the individual cannot be accommodated. Also employment need not be provided if the disability prevents the individual from being able to perform a required part of the job, or if the individual is unqualified for the job regardless of the disease.




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