Disability Rights, Access & Resources

Learn more about how disability laws and regulations apply in your situation and where you can explore sources of support

Disability civil rights laws and architectural access regulations intend to protect people with disabilities from discrimination in all areas of life and aim to uphold equal access. These protections range from reasonable accommodations in the workplace to rules about physical access in the built environment. The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) can help Massachusetts residents understand their rights and obligations under disability laws and regulations.

People often confuse MOD with the Social Security Administration (SSA). Since MOD does not administer benefits, please contact the SSA for questions regarding disability benefits.

If you are trying to find resources available for people with disabilities, MassOptions provides listings of resources on their website, as well as personalized information through their online chat and phoneline: (800) 243 4636.

Table of Contents

MOD’s focus and the support we can provide

The Massachusetts Office on Disability (MOD) can help you understand how disability laws and regulations may or may not apply in your situation, including your rights and responsibilities. We focus on answering questions around barriers to participation for people with disabilities. While we do not write the laws or enforce them, we do our best to recommend appropriate options for addressing an issue. 

MOD serves members of the general public, government agencies, and other entities. On this page you will find a list of main disability rights topic areas. For each topic, we provide you with foundational information, address common questions, and point to important publications and guidance materials. 

For disability rights topics where MOD offers discussion of the specifics of your unique situation and help understanding your options, you will find a link to contact MOD at the bottom of the topic page.

MOD might direct you to other government entities that can better answer your questions or provide you with services. MOD does not provide case-management or direct services. If you are looking for information or support not directly related to disability rights, you may find useful links in our Support and resources section.

Main disability laws and the definition of disability

A number of disability laws and regulations exist to support equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. Read about the main federal disability rights laws. The Massachusetts Trial Courts list Massachusetts laws on disability rights topics as well as federal laws, regulations, cases and useful references.

The laws and regulations vary in how they define disability. The most widely used definition of disability is specified by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities”. Specific programs, services, or benefits might have narrower definitions, requirements, or eligibility criteria. There is not one entity that determines whether someone is considered a person with a disability in all situations.

It is important to note that laws and regulations are often written in a way that leaves room for interpretation. Enforcement agencies often publish guidance on how laws should be interpreted and may publish new guidance if the interpretation shifts. For this reason, it is helpful to evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis and use reputable sources of information about how to interpret the law.

Architectural access

Buildings and facilities that are open to the public should follow state and federal accessibility regulations. These regulations specify requirements for a physical space to be accessible, functional, and safe for people with disabilities. MOD provides training, guidance, and site surveys to building management and users. Learn more about architectural access.


Students with disabilities have a right to request academic adjustments, modifications, auxiliary aids, and services to ensure equal opportunity and access. Educational entities have an obligation to evaluate those requests on a case-by-case basis and provide accommodations when there are reasonable options. Learn more about disability rights in education.

Effective Communication

State and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public have an obligation to communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. The goal is to ensure that communication with people with these disabilities is equally effective as communication with people without disabilities. Learn more about effective communication.


Employees with disabilities have civil rights to ensure equal opportunity during hiring and employment. Generally, employers are prohibited from discriminating against qualified people on the basis of disability.  Employees can request accommodations and employers have an obligation to evaluate those requests on a case-by-case basis and provide accommodations when there are reasonable options. Learn more about disability rights in employment.

Government programs & services

Federal, state, and municipal governments must offer equal opportunity for people with disabilities in their programs, activities, and services. There are specific requirements for how government entities provide access to their spaces and how they communicate. Learn more about disability rights in government services.


Most housing providers have to make reasonable accommodations/modifications to give individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to enjoy a dwelling. MOD can provide guidance on requesting reasonable accommodations/modifications. Learn more about disability rights in housing.

Many tenant rights questions are not directly disability related. MOD can point you to resources for tenants rights inquiries or for finding affordable or accessible housing. We do not conduct housing searches or help with housing applications. Learn more about housing resources for people with disabilities.

Public places

There are requirements for all places that are open to the public (e.g. restaurants, hotels, doctor’s offices, stores, schools, recreational facilities and libraries) to provide equal access to goods and services. Public places cannot discriminate based on disability, and must make reasonable changes to allow a person with a disability full and equal access to all of the activities, programs and services they offer. Learn more about disability rights in public places.

Service animals & emotional support animals

People with disabilities have the right to be accompanied by their service animal anywhere the public is allowed to go. In housing, people with disabilities have a right to request reasonable accommodations, including keeping an assistance animal (a service animal or emotional support animal). Learn more about disability rights for users of assistance animals.


Public and private transportation services have obligations to not discriminate against people with disabilities. Public transit agencies operating fixed-route services have obligations to provide comparable paratransit services.

Airlines may not refuse transport because of someone's disability. They must provide assistance and accessible features in some situations, and must have a complaint resolution official available.

Exemptions from automobile sales tax or excise tax are available to certain people with disabilities.

Gas stations must provide assistance pumping gas to people who have a disability plate or placard.

Learn about disability rights in transport.

Abuse, neglect and hate

There are laws protecting people with disabilities who have caregivers or who are in institutions.

There are laws against hate crimes on the basis of disability: these are enforced by the police.

Protection of people with disabilities from abuse, neglect and hate lists the laws and enforcement agencies.

Supports and resources

Finding your way around different organizations

It can be quite challenging to figure out the roles of different organizations, particularly government organizations. This can become a roadblock for people with disabilities who are looking for information or support. On the Finding Your Way Around page we provide you with some basic concepts to help you get started in navigating the federal and state organizations that serve the disability community.

Financial assistance

MOD does not administer any benefits, but we can help you understand the appropriate agencies to contact. 

There is a range of options for financial assistance at the state and federal level. Eligibility for these programs is often based on income level but some are disability specific. When people talk about “disability” as a benefit, they usually mean benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA). Learn more about financial assistance and supports.

Information about services for people with disabilities

MassOptions offers a directory of long term supportive services and resources for elders and people living with disabilities. You can call Mass Options on (800) 243-4636) for options counseling.

In home supports

Aging Service Access Points (ASAPs) can provide needs assessment, care management and in home services to seniors and people with disabilities over 60 who need help with activities of daily living (such as bathing, eating, dressing) in their home. The consumer's share of the cost for these services is based on their income. ASAPs can also refer you to other services that may be useful, and may offer caregiver support. Find your local ASAP.

People with disabilities under the age of 60 can potentially receive homemaker services from the Home Care Assistance Program, including housekeeping, laundry, grocery shopping, and meal supports. The Home Care Assistance Program is a program of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission.

The MassHealth Personal Care Attendant (PCA) program is for people who are on MassHealth or CommonHealth and who need assistance with at least two activities of daily living. A person is evaluated by a personal care management agency to determine how much assistance they need performing various daily living tasks and they are subsequently allotted a specific number of hours per week of paid assistance. The individual then hires and trains PCAs and decides on their schedule based on the number of hours allotted. MassHealth pays the PCAs and all of the administrative pieces (taxes, payroll, unemployment) are taken care of by a third party. For more information on the program, read the PCA Consumer Handbook

Information and support to live independently

Centers for Independent Living have a mission of ensuring people with disabilities can make their own choices and live as independently as possible. They can orient you to the services available in your community, and provide training and support for individuals who want to work on life goals related to independent living. Learn more about Centers for Independent Living.

Housing searches and other housing resources

MOD does not provide direct assistance for housing matters that are not related to disability civil rights, such as finding housing, tenant rights, poor conditions, eviction, resolving interpersonal disputes or home modifications. For information on who might be useful to contact for these matters, read housing resources for people with disabilities

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