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Disability Discrimination in Health Care and Health Services

Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibit covered health care and human service providers and institutions from discriminating against persons with disabilities in the provision of benefits or services or the conduct of programs or activities on the basis of their disability.

Section 504 applies to programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title II of the ADA covers all of the services, programs, and activities conducted by public entities (state and local governments, departments, agencies, etc.), including licensing.

Who Is Protected Under Federal Law?

Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect qualified individuals with disabilities. An individual with a disability is a person who has:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

What Does Major Life Activities Mean?

Major life activities means functions such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. Under Section 504 and the ADA, a person is a qualified individual with a disability if he or she meets the essential requirements for receipt of services or benefits, or participation in the programs or activities of a covered entity. The question of whether a particular condition is a disability within the meaning of Section 504 and the ADA is determined on a case-by-case basis.

What Is a "Physical or Mental Impairment?"

Physical or mental impairments include, but are not limited to: visual, speech, and hearing impairments; mental retardation, emotional illness, and specific learning disabilities; cerebral palsy; epilepsy; muscular dystrophy; multiple sclerosis; orthopedic conditions; cancer; heart disease; diabetes; and contagious and noncontagious diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV disease (whether symptomatic or asymptomatic).

Specific Requirements

Covered entities must not:

  • Establish eligibility criteria for receipt of services or participation in programs or activities that screen out or tend to screen out individuals with disabilities, unless such criteria are necessary to meet the objectives of the program.
  • Provide separate or different benefits, services, or programs to individuals with disabilities, unless it is necessary to ensure that the benefits and services are equally effective.

Covered entities must:

  • Provide services and programs in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • Make reasonable modifications in their policies, practices, and procedures to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless it would result in a fundamental alteration in their program or activity.
  • Ensure that buildings are accessible.
  • Provide auxiliary aids to individuals with disabilities, at no additional cost, where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments. (Auxiliary aids include such services or devices as: qualified interpreters, assistive listening headsets, television captioning and decoders, telecommunications devices for the deaf [TDDs], videotext displays, readers, taped texts, brailled materials, and large print materials.)

Who May File a Complaint?

Any individual who believes that he or she or a specific individual or class of individuals has been subjected to discrimination on the basis of disability, in a health or human service program or activity conducted by a covered entity, should contact the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). You may file a complaint online via the OCR Complaint Portal or you may file a complaint through mail by contacting the Regional Manager at the appropriate OCR Regional Office, or mailing to the following address:

Office for Civil Rights

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW Room 509F, HH Building

What to Include in the Complaint

Complaints must be filed within180 days from the date of the alleged discrimination. OCR may extend the 180-day deadline if you can show "good cause."

Include the following information in your written complaint, (complaints must be signed by the complainant or an authorized representative):

  • Your name, address, and telephone number.
  • Name and address of the entity you believe discriminated against you.
  • How, why, and when you believe you were discriminated against.
  • Any other relevant information.

Private Lawsuits

Private individuals may also bring law suits against a public entity to enforce their rights under Section 504 and the ADA; and may receive injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and reasonable attorney's fees.

Get Legal Help With Your Discrimination Claim

Disability discrimination in health care is a serious matter that jeopardizes many patients. Were you denied coverage because of a physical or mental disability? If you suspect that your health care services have been affected by disability discrimination, then get legal help from an attorney. An attorney who is familiar with discrimination issues can assist you with understanding how the law can protect you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified civil rights attorney to help you protect your rights.

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