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The Rehabilitation Act

15. What is the “Rehabilitation Act”?

The Rehabilitation Act aims to “promote and expand employment opportunities in the public and private sectors for handicapped individuals.” The Rehabilitation Act prohibits the Federal Government and certain federal contractors from discriminating against employees and contractors based upon a medical disability. The Rehabilitation Act does not distinguish between qualified and non-qualified disabilities, but the ant-discrimination provisions are quite similar to those under the ADA. An individual must still be able to perform the core responsibilities of the position. The federal employer must also make reasonable accommodations for the employee’s disability. The Act also requires the application of affirmative action programs to disabled individuals.

•    Discussion: Why do you think Congress failed to distinguish between qualified and non-qualified disabled individuals for purposes of federal employment? Was this wise? Why or why not?

•    Practice Question: Bertha is applying for employment with the US Department of Agriculture. She has ocular degeneration, which severely diminishes her eyesight. She is not hired for the position out of fear that her disability will not allow her to perform the job. She is considering filing a complaint under the Rehabilitation Act for discrimination. What would a court review in determining whether a valid complaint exists?

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