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Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (federal)

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 primarily dealt with federal grant funding for programs dealing with vocational rehabilitation – helping people with disabilities get the accommodations and training they need to get and keep employment.

More importantly, section 504 of this act was the first federal law that protected the civil rights of people with disabilities, providing that people with disabilities could not be excluded from or denied participation in any program that received federal funding – including schools, healthcare, and government assistance. 

From this section came the idea of a “free and appropriate education” – protecting the rights of all children in this country to access to public education and the right supports to be able to learn and grow.

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Theme Alert!


Values Check

Who and what do we value in our society? How do we determine someone’s “worth”, and whether they are deserving of help when they need it? Are all people really equal – and do we treat everyone as equally human?

People with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions because they were seen as useless or even dangerous to society. Their value in a place like Pineland rested on their potential for being trained to do menial labor – a Pineland resident could potentially get a furlough or even release from the institution if they could show that they could work.

In general, people with developmental disabilities throughout our history have been dismissed, patronized, and dehumanized. Doctors assumed that people with developmental disabilities didn’t feel pain, caretakers believed that they did not need friendships or hobbies or someone to communicate with, and society saw them as dangerous and unfit.

There were also people and moments in history that shifted our assumptions about the value of people with developmental disabilities – President Kennedy’s experience of loving his sister with disabilities led to huge policy shifts that impacted people with developmental disabilities across our country, and the brave self-advocates who organized a civil rights movement led directly to another president signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The question must be posed, what is the value of all potential members of the community, with or without disability, to the very health and fiber of the community?