In 1973, the federal government enacted a sweeping piece of legislation called the Rehabilitation Act that was viewed as a "civil rights" statute for individuals with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act ensured individuals with disabilities protection from discrimination in federal agencies (Section 501); required the timely removal of pre-existing physical barriers in architecture and transportation, and imposed mandatory structural accessibility requirements for all future enterprises (Section 502); it provided for nondiscrimination in employment practices for all institutions or entities in receipt of federal funding (Section 503); and provided a ‘right of access’ statue (Section 504). This law provided persons with disabilities the right of access into, or to the benefits of, any program or activity in receipt of federal funding (Section 504, as amended in 1978).
Post-secondary institutions, (e.g. Colleges & Universities), were most impacted by sections 503 & 504; however section 504 had the most far-reaching implications.
Under 504, post-secondary schools were required to establish support programs that assisted persons with disabilities within their institutions. These support programs were not special education programs created solely for persons with disabilities, but were instead, mandated measures to assure ‘inclusion with support’ into pre-established programs.
This landmark decision guaranteed that persons with disabilities had the same opportunity to participate in the same programs for the same rewards and prevented the person with a disability from being viewed solely on the basis of disability.