Document Type


Publication Date



The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated significant inequities experienced by people with disabilities. It has also emphasized the value of legal protections against discrimination based on disability. The Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted 30 years ago to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities and ensure equal opportunity across major areas of American life (ADA, 2008). Together with an earlier law, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Rehabilitation Act, 2012), this landmark civil rights law impacts a broad range of issues raised by the COVID-19 pandemic and protects a large and growing number of Americans. This Chapter focuses on application of these laws to health care and employment during the pandemic. These laws are powerful tools to protect the rights and well-being of people with disabilities, but they require robust enforcement. Enforcing agencies have provided COVID-19-specific guidance on the application of the laws to health care and employment. Further action is needed, as unresolved legal questions, gaps in protections, lack of knowledge of and noncompliance with disability rights laws, and a lack of data limit the impact of these laws. Recommendations for policymakers to ensure COVID-19 responses respects the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities include: robust enforcement of the laws; clear and current agency guidance on how to comply with the laws; education about the requirements of the laws, especially in health care settings; and improved data collection and reporting.

This paper was prepared as part of COVID-19 Policy Playbook: Legal Recommendations for a Safer, More Equitable Future, a comprehensive report published by Public Health Law Watch in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation and the American Public Health Association.