Accessibility Help Home | FAQs for Federal Register Notice SSA 2010-0069

FAQs for Federal Register Notice SSA 2010-0069

Agency Self-Evaluation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112)

What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires Federal agencies, and organizations receiving Federal financial assistance, to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities to persons with disabilities. Section 504 prohibits Federal agencies from discriminating against persons with disabilities.

What is the definition of "disability" under Section 504?

Section 504 protects qualified individuals with disabilities. Under this law, individuals with disabilities are defined as persons with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. People who have a history of, or who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, are also covered. Major life activities include caring for one's self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks, and learning. Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities, even with the help of medication or aids/devices, are: AIDS, blindness or visual impairment, cancer, deafness or hearing impairment, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and, in some cases, alcoholism and drug addiction. In addition to meeting the above definition, for purposes of receiving services, education, or training, qualified individuals with disabilities are persons who meet normal and essential eligibility requirements.

For purposes of employment, qualified individuals with disabilities are persons who, with a reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the job for which they have applied or have been hired to perform. (Complaints alleging employment discrimination based on disability will be referred to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for processing.)

An accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal access and equal employment opportunities. 29 C.F.R. 1630.2(o).

What is the relationship between Section 504 and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires Federal agencies, and organizations receiving Federal financial assistance, to provide meaningful access to their programs and activities to persons with disabilities.

The Rehabilitation Act is sometimes confused with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1990. While there are many parallels between the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, there are some fundamental differences. Both laws are designed to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Both share many of the same definitions and provisions. However, where the Rehabilitation Act pertains to Federal agencies and entities receiving Federal funding, the ADA applies to State and local governments, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, telecommunications, and the U.S. Congress.

What is the difference between Sections 504 and 508?

Under Section 504, agencies must provide individuals with disabilities meaningful access to their programs, activities, and facilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires Federal agencies to make electronic and information technology they use, maintain, develop, or procure accessible to individuals with disabilities. In other words, Section 508 provides specific requirements agencies must use to ensure individuals with disabilities have meaningful access to their electronic and information technology.

Section 508 can be regarded as one method of ensuring Section 504 compliance. Much of the agency's business is now conducted using technology, and SSA's comprehensive Section 508 program helps the agency to design and evaluate technology for accessibility.

What is a Section 504 Self-Evaluation?

The Section 504 Self-Evaluation reviews the Social Security Administration (SSA)'s current programs, activities, and facilities for compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and, to the extent modifications of any of these policies and practices are required, to take the necessary corrective actions.

How can I access 45 C.F.R. 85.11 so I can read it myself?

45 C.F.R. Part 85

When does SSA expect to start the Section 504 self-evaluation?

We published the first Federal Register notice on November 5, 2010, and expect to start the self-evaluation in 2011.

How long does SSA expect the Section 504 self-evaluation to take?

We want to make sure our self-evaluation is thorough and comprehensive; therefore, we do not want to set an arbitrary timeframe for completion.

What will be your final products from the Section 504 self-evaluation?

As the result of the 504 self-evaluation, we plan to produce a transition plan documenting areas examined, barriers identified, and recommendations for modifications.

Does SSA plan to conduct regular Section 504 self-evaluations?

The results of the Section 504 self-evaluation and future needs will determine whether SSA will conduct regular self-evaluations in the future.

What other ongoing activities have you planned to ensure continuing compliance with Section 504?

SSA has implemented a civil rights complaints process that permits any individual to bring a potential violation of Section 504 to the attention of SSA's Office of the General Counsel. Additionally, SSA is constantly re-evaluating its programs for compliance with both the letter and the spirit of Section 504. As only one example, SSA's Office of Open Government has implemented a Notice Improvement initiative with a goal of ensuring SSA's notices are understandable by the widest possible cross-section of the public.

What does SSA do now to ensure that its policies, procedures, and activities don't discriminate against persons with disabilities?

The agency has taken steps to ensure it does not discriminate against individuals with disabilities, and the agency continually evaluates its policies and practices to ensure individuals with disabilities have meaningful access to its programs and activities. For example, the agency: (1) trains its employees in dealing with special interviewing situations, including interviewing individuals with disabilities; (2) provides American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters free of charge; (3) provides special notice options for individuals who need an accommodation to read agency notices; and (4) notifies members of the public that they can file a discrimination complaint if they believe the agency discriminated against them.

Why hasn't SSA published its own regulation addressing Section 504 compliance?

After SSA became an independent agency in 1995, the agency adopted all Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations that were not superseded by SSA-specific regulations. As SSA has not issued any superseding regulations concerning Section 504, the agency continues to follow the requirements of the HHS regulations. SSA is currently conducting a review of all adopted HHS regulations, including 45 C.F.R. part 85, with the goal of adopting new SSA-specific regulations in all areas currently covered by adopted regulations.

In addition to the Federal Register Notices, does SSA have any other plans to engage individuals with disabilities and their advocates in the Section 504 self-evaluation process?

In addition to Federal Register notices, SSA plans to hold public meetings to engage advocacy groups and other members of the public in the Section 504 self-evaluation process. We may also conduct a series of other outreach efforts to engage the public in the process.

How has SSA responded to alleged violations of Section 504 by the agency?

SSA established a discrimination complaint process to allow members of the public to file a complaint if they believe the agency has violated their rights under Section 504 (or discriminated against them based on race, sex, religion, color, national origin, age, or retaliation). The agency conducts an investigation into each complaint and issues a letter of findings to the complainant.

How can I get more information about SSA's efforts to comply with Section 504?

Please visit our website: Section 504.

How can I submit a comment on Section 504 related issues?

As we proceed with the self-evaluation, we will notify the public, through Federal Register notices posted on the regulations.gov website, of opportunities for interested persons to participate in the self-evaluation process. In addition to the Federal Register notices, we plan to hold public meetings where individuals may register in advance if they wish to present information at the public meetings.

How can I submit a complaint on Section 504 related issues?

To file a complaint, please mail a completed and signed discrimination complaint form, including the consent and release section to:
Social Security Administration
Civil Rights Complaint Adjudication Office
P.O. Box 17788
Baltimore, MD 21235-7788

SSA-437 Complaint Form for Allegations of Discrimination in Programs or Activities Conducted by the Social Security Administration

How can I contact SSA regarding 504 related issues?

Please visit our website: Section 504.