Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act provided that:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service.

The Rehabilitation Act was brought about after Senator Hubert Humphrey wanted to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include people with disabilities.  However, supporters of the Civil Rights Act feared that the act would be damaged in the process of amending it to include the disabled community.  What resulted was a bill for the Rehabilitation Act and a battle between congress and President Nixon.  After two vetoes and much change, Section 504 managed to remain included in the approved Act, but without provisions written to ensure it would be applied.

Below is Nixon’s statement taken from the American Presidency Project.  It is evident in his he doubts how effective the Act will be given its funding.


274 – Statement on Signing the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
September 26, 1973

IT IS doubly gratifying for me to be able to sign into law today the Rehabilitation Act of 1973–first, because of the good the act will do in helping hundreds of thousands of our disabled citizens attain self-sufficiency, and secondly, because of the encouraging example which our agreement on legislation sets for future executive-legislative cooperation.

My decisions last October and again this past March to veto earlier vocational rehabilitation bills sent me by the Congress were painful ones, for I knew that in each case the intentions were generous even though imperfectly realized and that the beneficiaries involved were deserving. For precisely those reasons, however, I felt it would be worth the extra time and effort to obtain legislation that could truly live up to its promises.

The process of hammering out a compromise on this matter was long and difficult. It is heartening, however, that neither the Congress nor the Administration allowed the smoke of legislative skirmishes to obscure the goal we have shared from the first–that of continuing and improving a program which has long been one of the most humanitarian and effective of all Federal grant activities. The compromise which has now emerged augurs well for progress on many other fronts where the American people are anxious for legislative action.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides a strong charter for continued improvement in the quality and quantity of federally financed vocational rehabilitation services to physically and mentally handicapped Americans. Under the basic authority extended in this bill, some $700 million is being sought for this purpose in fiscal year 1974, almost double the amount that was being spent under the program when this Administration took office. This sum would ensure that the 1.2 million men and women currently being helped by the rehabilitation program–a 50 percent increase over the 1969 level–will enjoy the benefits of expanded job opportunities and further steps toward independence.

At the same time, the new law wisely avoids certain pitfalls which led me to reject earlier versions. Its funding levels, while adequate, do not abrogate the fiscal disciplines essential for a noninflationary, balanced budget. This bill keeps the Federal vocational rehabilitation program focused on its original and proper purpose, that of preparing people for meaningful jobs, rather than burdening that program with broad new medical or welfare functions better performed elsewhere. The legislation also preserves the administrative flexibility necessary for the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare and State rehabilitation agencies to manage the program effectively. It provides a strong impetus for serving those who are most in need and most likely to benefit from vocational rehabilitation services.

In sum, the executive-legislative partnership which has placed this legislation on the statute books makes this a good day for those of our fellow citizens whose courage and spirit in the face of physical adversity provide inspiration for all of us. It is a good day too for all Americans who have wanted the Congress and the Administration to stop butting heads and start pulling together for the public good.

Last spring, shortly after completing my series of State of the Union reports to the Congress, I was forced to exercise my first veto of 1973 on a vocational rehabilitation bill which was fiscally and programmatically unsound. It is perhaps symbolic that a good bill drawn to serve the same ends is the first major piece of social legislation which I have had the opportunity to sign after this September’s State of the Union appeal for a fresh start on our long legislative agenda.

More than 50 bills still remain on that agenda. I look forward to working in close cooperation with the Congress in the weeks ahead in the hope that many more of these bills can be enacted into law.

Read more at the American Presidency Project: www.presidency.ucsb.edu

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