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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. 

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

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. While we do not write the laws or enforce them, we do our best to recommend appropriate recourse. 

If after reading through online information you still have disability-related questions, MOD can discuss the nuances of your unique case and help you understand your options.

If after reading through the relevant topic page(s), you still have disability-related questions concerning your situation or options, you will find a link to contact MOD at the bottom of those topic pages.

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.

Main topic areas

In this section, you will find a brief description of common topic areas to help you identify which are relevant to your situation. Follow the links given to read an overview of the key concepts and who to contact for questions or complaints.

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.

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.

Disability rights in 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 programs & services.

Disability rights in housing

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 service animals & emotional support animals.

Main disability laws and regulations

A number of disability laws and regulations exist to support equal access and opportunity for people with disabilities. MOD’s Disability Laws Booklet gives an overview of the main disability-related federal and state laws and regulations. 

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.