U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division

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Questions and Answers about the Department of Justice's
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Amend the Department's Regulation Implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—Nondiscrimination Based on Disability in Federally Assisted Programs or Activities

1) What is the purpose of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (section 504)?

Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in both Federally conducted programs or activities (i.e., programs and activities administered by a Federal entity) and Federally assisted programs or activities (i.e., programs or activities receiving Federal financial assistance).  The Department of Justice (the Department) implements the requirements of section 504 for programs and activities receiving financial assistance from the Department through its regulation at 28 CFR part 42, subpart G (section 504 Federally assisted regulation).

2) Why does the Department need to change its regulation?

The Department is issuing this notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in order to revise and update its section 504 Federally assisted regulation.  Since the Department first promulgated its section 504 Federally assisted regulation in 1980, there have been a number of major changes to the Rehabilitation Act and other related disability laws.  The existing regulation does not reflect several statutory changes Congress has made to the Rehabilitation Act, the enactment of the ADA,1 and some key Supreme Court decisions interpreting section 504 requirements.  The Department is proposing to incorporate definitions and requirements arising out of these statutory amendments to the Rehabilitation Act and title II of the ADA and longstanding Supreme Court decisions, into its proposed section 504 Federally assisted regulation.  Although these statutory changes to the Rehabilitation Act and the applicable Supreme Court decisions are already in effect and already apply to recipients of Departmental funding, the Department’s proposed regulatory changes will consolidate this information into one place in order to help ensure that recipients, persons with disabilities, and others affected by section 504 will know how to interpret and apply the requirements and protections under section 504.

3) What are the changes that are incorporated into the revised regulation?
  • The NPRM proposes to incorporate a range of amendments to the Rehabilitation Act, including the following:
    • Changes in the meaning and interpretation of the definition of “disability” required by the ADA Amendments Act, which also amended section 504’s definition of disability.  The proposed regulation will incorporate by reference the Department’s revised discussion of the meaning and interpretation of the term “disability,” at 28 CFR part 35;
    • The addition of definitions from title II of the ADA of “drugs” and “illegal use of drugs” and the exclusion from coverage of an individual who is currently engaging in the illegal use of drugs;
    • The adoption of “person first” language, such as by changing the term “handicapped person” to “individual with a disability;” and
    • The application of the ADA title I standards to claims of employment discrimination under section 504.
  • The proposed regulation also incorporates into the regulatory text the existing requirements, stemming from longstanding Supreme Court decisions, with respect to the “direct threat” defense and the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.
  • The NPRM proposes to change the section 504 accessibility standards applicable to new construction and alteration of buildings and facilities from the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design;
  • The proposed rule revises the language of certain provisions, including the general nondiscrimination prohibitions, to promote consistency with comparable provisions implementing title II of the ADA;
  • The NPRM proposes to remove a provision that limits the remedies available to the Department solely to termination of the recipient’s funds in cases where a recipient of Federal assistance fails to provide compliance information, such as compliance reports or information sought by beneficiaries; and
  • The proposed rule also includes a variety of non-substantive clarifying edits, including reorganization of the regulatory provisions, to make the regulation more user-friendly.


4) When does the public comment period close for the proposed regulation?

The comment period for this NPRM will close on March 20, 2017.

5) How do I comment on the proposed regulation?

Once the NPRM is published and the comment period opens, you may submit comments, identified by RIN 1105-AB50 (or Docket ID No. OAG 154), by any one of the following methods:

  • Online at www.regulations.gov. Follow the website’s instructions for submitting comments.
  • Regular U.S. mail: Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, P.O. Box 2885, Fairfax, VA 22031-0885.
  • Overnight, courier, or hand delivery: Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1425 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 4055, Washington, D.C. 20005
1 Title II of the ADA and section 504 are generally understood to impose similar requirements, given the similar language employed in the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act and the Congressional directive that the ADA be construed to grant at least as much protection as provided by the regulations implementing the Rehabilitation Act.  See, e.g.,42 U.S.C. 12201(a).  Additionally, the legislative history to the 1992 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act states “[t]he statement of purpose and policy is a reaffirmation of the precepts of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has been referred to as the 20th century emancipation proclamation for individuals with disabilities. It is the Committee's intent that these principles guide the policies, practices, and procedures developed under all titles of the [Rehabilitation] Act.”  S. Rep. 102-357 at 12 (Aug. 3, 1992); H.R. Rep. 102-822 at 83 (Aug. 10, 1992).

January 13, 2017