Do you want to make an impact on crucial health care policy for disabled people? The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is proposing updated regulations for Section 504, and we need you to comment in support of these crucial changes!
When people talk about Section 504, they’re talking about Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) existed, people with disabilities relied on Section 504 to defend ourselves from discrimination in federal programs. Federal program means any program that the US government runs.
Section 504 is still very important. Federal programs, or any programs that take federal money, aren’t supposed to discriminate against people with disabilities. For example, almost all hospitals use federal money. If a hospital discriminates against a disabled person, we can use Section 504 to defend that person’s rights.
In September, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed updates to its Section 504 regulations. There have not been updates to the regulations since they started in 1977. This update is important because we have the chance to protect the rights of disabled people. We can make sure people with disabilities can access health care and vital services without discrimination. This is something the Administration can do without Congress, and it will make many people’s lives better.
Here are some of the most important proposed changes to Section 504:
- Health care discrimination: The proposed rule strengthens protections in medical settings. It does this by banning health care providers from denying disabled people treatments that would be available to nondisabled people in the same situation. It limits medical providers’ ability to turn away someone who wants and could benefit from treatment because a doctor does not believe they have a good quality of life. It addresses longstanding concerns for our community like organ transplant discrimination, people with disabilities being pressured to use more permanent birth control options, and crisis standards of care.
- Health care accessibility: The proposed rule expands the types of medical equipment that need to be made accessible. The original rule says that diagnostic equipment must be accessible, like exam tables and X-ray machines. The proposed rule says that a wider variety of equipment must also be accessible, including equipment used for treatment. The proposed rule also protects our right to bring a support or communication partner with us in medical settings.
- Child welfare: HHS recognized that child removal based on ableist stereotypes and lack of accommodations in family reunification are significant problems for our communities. The proposed rule would help protect families where at least one of the parents has a disability. The rule mandates equal opportunity in family preservation. It also cautions states about discriminating against disabled people who want to be kinship caregivers or foster parents.
- Integration mandate: The proposed rule requires that heath care settings provide healthcare and services to people with disabilities in the most integrated setting possible. This allows people to stay in their communities and avoid being institutionalized. HHS has designed its standards to match the ones set for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since the Olmstead decision, which says that people getting state government-funded services have the right to live in the community.
What do we need to do?
Our community needs to show our support for these changes! Updating regulations takes a long time and can be difficult to understand. This is even more true for Section 504, because it applies to so many programs. We need to take this opportunity to tell the government why this change is so important to us by submitting comments! You can talk about your own experiences with discrimination or tell a story. For example, the regulation talks a lot about healthcare discrimination, so you could share a story of a time you dealt with medical discrimination. You can also talk about the experiences of a family member or friend who had to deal with discrimination. Comments are due on or before November 13th.
You can submit your comments at this link. ASAN is also hosting a webinar on October 17th at 3PM EST titled “Pushing for Change: Commenting on the Proposed 504 Regulations” to explain how to submit comments and what you should include. Register for the webinar at this link.