Letter to the editor

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was not properly explained in paper’s History Note The Access Press October 2023 article; “HISTORY NOTE: […]

Generic Article graphic with Access Press logo

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was not properly explained in paper’s History Note

The Access Press October 2023 article; “HISTORY NOTE: Rehabilitation Act anniversary is time to reflect on major milestone” provided readers with inadequate information upon which to appreciate this decidedly significant legislation – the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Initially, we read the legislation “is widely regarded as a major milestone in the fight of (sic) employment equity and access for disabled people.” 

But the next two thirds of the article deviate and “inform” us about the politics and policy disputes preceding passage and signing of the Act by then President Richard Nixon. Did you read this? Did you care? Did you learn why the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is indeed “a major milestone?” Perhaps not. 

If you or one you knew had never been involved in any of the multiple sections of the Act – non-discrimination in federal employment, in federal granting, by federal contractors, in physical and program access, in information technology and other important sections, the article didn’t illuminate its importance. The Act included a Board to review access, and mandated affirmative action by federal contractors and subcontractors. You may have been a beneficiary of an aspect of the ACT. Did you read about any of this in the “HISTORY NOTE?” I didn’t.  

The article gives us a couple of links for further reading. Okay.  The author of the “HISTORY NOTE” has borrowed material from the first link – “The Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Independence Bound” by Bob Williams, Director, Independence Living Administration¸ ACL. We are also directed to USDOL’s August 28th blog about Section 503 of the Rehab Act. Limited but useful. The “HISTORY NOTE” more appropriately should have quoted and/or referred the reader to the July 26th USDOL blog that in part states: 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities by any program or activity that is Federally funded or conducted. . .. 

More importantly, the July 26th USDOL Blog continues: 

But Section 504’s impact also lies in the fact that it laid the foundation (underlining mine) for more comprehensive legislation to come – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

Bet you didn’t learn this if you had read the so-called “HISTORY NOTE.” And, if you had not known the importance of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 to the ADA, where might you have learned it? 

Dick VanWagner is at [email protected]  

Dick VanWagner 
Eden Prairie 

Editor’s note: The History Note is not intended to be a comprehensive history. Instead, it is a brief overview of a topic. It is not intended to be a scholarly history, as our newspaper audience is mainly one of readers with a general interest in disability. It is intended to direct readers to other resources when space is not available. 

The History Note is prepared by our editor and typically not by MNCDD. 

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