On Thursday, September 7, Secretary Xavier Becerra announced that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) had proposed updates to its Section 504 regulations. These updates are a major opportunity to protect the rights of disabled people and ensure we can access health care and vital services without discrimination. ASAN is glad to see HHS take this important step, and we look forward to ensuring the final regulations are as comprehensive and effective as possible.
Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) existed, people with disabilities relied on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) to defend ourselves from discrimination in federal programs. Section 504 put the disability rights movement on the path to passing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and is still a critical tool for disability rights. Section 504 applies to all federal programs, and any other program receiving federal funds. If a program is run by the federal government, or takes federal money, it isn’t supposed to discriminate against people with disabilities. For example, almost all hospitals use federal money. If a hospital discriminates against a person with a disability, we can use Section 504 to defend that person’s rights.
Even though Section 504 is an important tool, the regulations have not been updated since they were first implemented in 1977. The world has changed a lot since 1977. Secretary Becerra acknowledged that these updates are “long overdue.” Disability rights advocates have pushed the Biden administration to make updating the 504 regulations a top priority since the beginning of the administration. As Secretary Becerra said, “No one should be left on the sidelines when it comes to living life.” This is something the Administration can do without Congress, and it will directly improve many people’s lives.
The updates talk about many things important to the disability community, including:
- Disability discrimination in health care settings
- Discrimination against disabled people who need organ transplants or life-saving care
- Measuring the value of treatment without discriminating against disabled people who can never be “cured”
- Accessible medical equipment
- Accessible communication in health care settings
- Discrimination against people with disabilities by the child welfare system
- Community integration
And much more.
The process for updating regulations is long, complicated, and slow-moving. This is especially true for Section 504, because it applies to all federal programs and any program receiving federal funds. The proposed regulations are 400 pages long. Over the coming days, ASAN looks forward to closely reading the draft regulations and preparing thoughtful comments. We stand ready to assist HHS to ensure that the final regulations are as comprehensive as possible and make a real difference to people with disabilities. We are still waiting for other federal agencies to release their own updates; we hope to see those soon. And we look forward to holding the administration accountable to its statement that “Once we enact this rule, we intend to enforce it.”
For more information on ASAN and Section 504, please contact ASAN’s Director of Advocacy, Zoe Gross, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network seeks to advance the principles of the disability rights movement with regard to autism. ASAN believes that the goal of autism advocacy should be a world in which autistic people enjoy equal access, rights, and opportunities. We work to empower autistic people across the world to take control of our own lives and the future of our common community, and seek to organize the autistic community to ensure our voices are heard in the national conversation about us. Nothing About Us, Without Us!