Home / Program Offices / FHEO Home / Disability Overview
Disability Overview

Disability discrimination is prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other federal, state, and local laws.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities based on disability, among other protected classes. Generally, the Fair Housing Act applies to a broad range of persons and entities, including public housing agencies, property owners, landlords, housing managers, real estate agents, brokerage service agencies, and banks. The Fair Housing Act prohibits a broad range of discriminatory activities and statements. In addition, persons and entities covered by the Fair Housing Act may not coerce, intimidate, threaten or interfere with any individual’s rights under Fair Housing Act. Persons and entities covered by the Fair Housing Act are prohibited from discriminating against applicants or residents because of their disability or the disability of anyone associated with them and from treating persons with disabilities less favorably than others because of their disability. For more information, see Fair Housing Act Overview.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides that no qualified individual with disabilities should, 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.

Section 504 covers all programs and activities of recipients of HUD financial assistance, including, for example:

•    Outreach and public contact, including contact with program applicants and participants

•    Eligibility criteria

•    Application process

•    Admission to the program

•    Tenancy, including eviction

•    Service delivery

•    Physical accessibility of facilities

•    Employment policies and practices

Who Is a Recipient?

Section 504 broadly covers all recipients and subrecipients of HUD financial assistance. HUD’s Section 504 regulation defines a recipient as any State or its political subdivision, any instrumentality of a State or its political subdivision, any public or private agency, institution, organization, or other entity, or any person to which federal financial assistance is extended for any program or activity directly or through another recipient, including any successor, assignee, or transferee of a recipient, but excluding the ultimate beneficiary of the assistance. Any subrecipient of federal financial assistance is considered a recipient for purposes of Section 504 compliance. An entity or person receiving housing assistance payments from a recipient on behalf of eligible families under a housing assistance payments program or a voucher program is not a recipient or sub-recipient merely by virtue of receipt of such payments.

What Is Federal Financial Assistance?

HUD’s Section 504 regulation defines federal financial assistance broadly to include virtually any form of financial assistance, including property, except for a contract or guarantee of insurance, provided or otherwise made available by the Department. This includes any assistance provided or otherwise made available by the Department through a grant, loan, contract or any other arrangement, including funds, services of federal personnel, or real or personal property or any interest in or use of such property. 

These are some common types of HUD funding programs:

1.  Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)

2.  HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME)

3.  Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG)

4.  Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA)

5.  Public Housing

6.  Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8)

7.  Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities (Section 811)

8.  Supportive Housing for the Elderly (Section 202)

9.  Homeless Assistance Programs (Continuum of Care, other McKinney-Vento Programs)

10. Recipients of NOFA Funding

This list is not exhaustive. See also Non-Discrimination in Housing and Community Development Programs.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law for persons with disabilities. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all programs, services, and activities provided or made available by public entities (state and local governments and special purpose districts). This includes housing when the housing is provided or made available by a public entity regardless of whether the entity receives federal financial assistance. For example, housing covered by Title II of the ADA includes housing operated by public housing agencies that meet the ADA’s definition of “public entity,” and housing operated by States or units of local government, such as housing on a State university campus.

Title III of the ADA prohibits private entities that own, lease (to and from), and operate places of public accommodation from discriminating on the basis of disability and requires places of public accommodation and commercial facilities to be designed, constructed, and altered in compliance with established accessibility standards. Public accommodations at housing developments include any public areas that are open to the general public, such as a rental office. Public accommodations would also include, for example, shelters and social service establishments.

For more information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, visit the Department of Justice ADA page.

Who Is a Person with a Disability?

Federal nondiscrimination laws define a person with a disability to include any (1) individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individual with a record of such impairment; or (3) individual who is regarded as having such an impairment.

In general, a physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to, examples of conditions such as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), developmental disabilities, mental illness, drug addiction, and alcoholism. 

Some impairments are readily observable, while others may be invisible. Observable impairments may include, but are not limited to, blindness or low vision, deafness or being hard of hearing, mobility limitations, and other types of impairments with observable symptoms or effects, such as intellectual impairments (including some types of autism), neurological impairments (e.g., stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or brain injury), mental illness, or other diseases or conditions that affect major life activities or bodily functions.

The term “major life activities” includes those activities that are important to daily life. Major life activities include, for example, walking, speaking, hearing, seeing, breathing, working, learning, performing manual tasks, and caring for oneself. There are other major life activities that are not on this list. Major life activities also include the operation of major bodily activities, such as the functions of the immune system, special sense organs and skin, normal cell growth, and digestive, genitourinary, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, cardiovascular, endocrine, hemic, lymphatic, musculoskeletal, and reproductive systems.

Under regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 some types of impairments will, in virtually all cases, be found to impose a substantial limitation on a major life activity resulting in a determination of a disability. Such impairments are “predictably assessed” as disabilities by the very nature of the impairment as substantially limiting a major life activity or major bodily function. Examples include deafness, blindness, intellectual disabilities, partially or completely missing limbs or mobility impairments requiring the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. This does not mean that other conditions are not disabilities. It simply means that in virtually all cases these conditions will be covered as disabilities.

In general, the definition of “person with a disability” does not include current users of illegal controlled substances, but does provide protections for individuals with drug or alcohol addiction. Individuals would also be protected under Section 504 and the ADA if a purpose of the specific program or activity is to provide health or rehabilitation services to such individuals.

Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Federally-Assisted Housing Programs

Federal law makes it illegal for an otherwise qualified individual with a disability, solely because of his or her disability, to be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. An individual with a disability, who is also otherwise qualified for the program, service or activity, is covered under Section 504. To be qualified means the individual meets the essential eligibility requirements, including, for example, income requirements for tenancy, if the program is a housing program, provided those eligibility requirements are not discriminatory and can be met with or without reasonable accommodations or auxiliary aids or services necessary for effective communication.

For more information on the rights of persons with disabilities in federally-assisted housing as well as the responsibilities of housing providers who receive federal financial assistance, visit Non-Discrimination in Housing and Community Development Programs.

Zoning and Land Use

The Fair Housing Act, the ADA, and Section 504 prohibit state and local land use and zoning laws, policies, and practices that discriminate because of disability. For more information, see the Joint Statement of DOJ and HUD on Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act.

Filing a Complaint

If you believe you have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability, you may file a complaint with HUD.

Additional Resources


Back to FHEO Home