Massachusetts law about disability rights in public spaces and government services

Laws, regulations, and web & print sources on disability rights in public spaces, and public services provided by state and federal government programs.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians or the Massachusetts Office on Disability for assistance.

Table of Contents

Civil rights in general

Massachusetts laws

Article CXIV of the Massachusetts Constitution
Added in 1980. "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity within the commonwealth."

MGL c. 12, § 11H Violations of constitutional rights; civil actions by attorney general; venue; compensatory damages; fees and costs; civil penalties

MGL c. 12, § 11I Violations of constitutional rights; civil actions by aggrieved persons; costs and fees

MGL c. 151B Unlawful discrimination because of race, color, religious creed, national origin, ancestry or sex
State law also prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

MGL c. 151B, § 1 Definitions
Definitions include the terms "handicap", "qualified handicapped person", and "major life activities" for the purposes of c.151B.

Selected cases

Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999)
Right to live integrated within communities. "Under Title II, the court concluded, unnecessary institutional segregation constitutes discrimination per se, which cannot be justified by a lack of funding."


Courts

Massachusetts laws

MGL c. 221, § 92A Interpreters for the deaf or hearing-impaired; court proceedings; arrests; admissibility of evidence; fees and expenses; privileged communications

Selected cases

McDonough, petitioner, 457 Mass. 512 (2010)
"(1) where a witness with a disability requests accommodation in order to testify, Mass. Equal Rights Act requires that the court provide such accommodation, so long as it is "reasonable," G.L. c. 93, § 103(a); (2) where there is a dispute concerning such a witness's request for accommodation, a judge should conduct a hearing to resolve the dispute, preferably before trial, and the witness should be provided with reasonable accommodation, if available, during the pretrial hearing; and (3) where a judge precludes a witness with a disability from testifying by denying a request for accommodation, the party proffering the witness, but not the witness, may appeal the judge's interlocutory ruling as a matter of right to the Appeals Court."

Web sources

ADA accessibility at the courts, Massachusetts Court System.

Courts Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forms, instructions, and information, Massachusetts Court System.
Accommodation, complaint and grievance forms for the appellate and trial courts.


Government services

Massachusetts laws and regulations

MGL c. 151B, § 4(10) Prohibits discrimination against recipients of government assistance

106 CMR Department of Transitional Assistance

106 CMR 703.00 Transitional cash assistance program: nonfinancial eligibility

  • 106 CMR 703.191 Disabled
  • 106 CMR 703.610 Participant in a Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission program
  • 106 CMR 703.620 Caring for the disabled

Federal laws and regulations

29 U.S.C. § 794 Nondiscrimination under Federal grants and programs
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

42 U.S.C. §§ 12131 et seq. Public services
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act: State and local government programs.

  • § 12132 Discrimination
    "[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."

28 CFR Part 35 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in state and local government services

  • Note: There are over 95 implementing regulations in the CFR for federally conducted programs.

49 CFR Part 27 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance

Web sources

About your rights in accessing state & local government services, Massachusetts Office on Disability.


Public access and accommodations

Massachusetts laws and regulations

MGL c. 272, § 92A Advertisement, book, notice or sign relative to discrimination; definition of place of public accommodation, resort or amusement

MGL c. 272, § 98 Discrimination in admission to, or treatment in, place of public accommodation; punishment; forfeiture; civil right

MGL c. 272, § 98A Physically handicapped persons with dog guides; public places or conveyances; charges or fares; penalties

521 CMR Architectural Access Board

540 CMR 17 Issuance of disability plates and placards

See also: Massachusetts city and town ordinances and by-laws
Check your local ordinances and by-laws for laws adopted by cities and towns that remove barriers for people with disabilities.

Federal laws and regulations

42 U.S.C. §§ 4151 et seq. Design and construction of public buildings to accommodate physically handicapped

42 U.S.C. §§ 12181 et seq. Public accommodations and services operated by private entities (Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act)

49 U.S.C. § 41705 Discrimination against handicapped individuals (Air Carrier Access Act)

14 CFR Part 382 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in air travel (Air Carrier Access Act)

28 CFR Part 36 Nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities

41 CFR Part Subpart C §§ 102 - 76 et seq. Architectural Barriers Act

49 CFR Part 37 Transportation services for individuals with disabilities (ADA)

49 CFR Part 38 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility specifications for transportation vehicles

Selected cases

PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001)
ADA requires professional sports associations to make modifications for participants with disabilities.

Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., 545 U.S. 119 (2005)
ADA public accommodation statutes are applicable to foreign-flag cruise ships in U.S. waters.

Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C., 596 U.S. 212 (2022)
Supreme Court held that emotional distress damages are not recoverable for victims of discrimination.

Williams v. Kincaid, U.S. Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit (2022), WL 3364824
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects transgender people from discrimination. The ADA covers “gender dysphoria” a “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person's gender identity and that person's sex assigned at birth.” This case involves a transgender woman who was placed in a men’s prison where she was denied hormone therapy and suffered harassment. The ruling applies also to workplace and public accommodations.

Web sources

About your rights in public places, Massachusetts Office on Disability.

Accessibility requirements for state facilities, Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

Accessibility resources, Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

ADA requirements - effective communication, ADA.gov.

ADA standards for accessible design, ADA.gov.

Airline passengers with disabilities bill of rights, U.S. Department of Transportation.
"This Bill of Rights describes the fundamental rights of air travelers with disabilities under the Air Carrier Access Act and its implementing regulation, 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 382."

Americans with Disabilities Act compliance for Executive Branch agencies, Massachusetts Office on Disability.

DCAMM statewide accessibility initiative, Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

Discrimination in public places, Mass. Commission Against Discrimination.
"Learn more about the types of discrimination that happen in public places and how we are protecting your rights."

Public accommodation civil rights protections, Attorney General's Civil Rights Division.


Technology

Federal laws and regulations

29 U.S.C. § 794d Electronic and information technology
Electronic and information technology maintained by the federal government must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. Codifies Section 508 of the of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

47 CFR §§ 64.601 et seq. Telecommunications relay services and related customer premises equipment for persons with disabilities

Web sources

Executive guide to federal IT accessibility, U.S. General Services Administration.

Guidance on web accessibility and the ADA, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division (Updated March 18, 2022).
"Describes how state and local governments and businesses open to the public can make sure that their websites are accessible to people with disabilities as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)."

Justice Department advances proposed rule to strengthen web and mobile app access for people with disabilities, U.S. Department of Justice, July 25, 2023.
"The Justice Department sent to the Federal Register for publication a notice of proposed rulemaking under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that aims to improve web and mobile applications (apps) access for people with disabilities and clarify how public entities – primarily state and local governments – can meet their existing ADA obligations as many of their activities shift online."


Voting

Massachusetts laws and regulations

MGL c. 54, § 79 & § 98 Assistance in marking ballots
Voters with a disability may be assisted by any person they designate.

MGL c. 54, § 86 Absent or physically disabled voters

950 CMR 51.00 Polling place accessibility for elderly and handicapped voters

Federal laws and regulations

52 U.S.C. §§ 20101 - 20107 Voting accessibility for the elderly and handicapped

Web sources

Voters with disabilities, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division.
Includes information on the requirements for accessible polling places and voting procedures. Also provides information on accessible voting equipment used at terminals, vote by mail ballots, and how to contact the Division with suggestions or concerns.


Agencies and filing complaints

Enforcement agencies

AgencyFile a complaint
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
1 Ashburton Place
Suite 601
Boston, MA 02108
Main: (617) 994-6000
TTY: (617) 994-6196
File a complaint of discrimination
MCAD is the state agency that is responsible for enforcing and investigating violations of MGL 151B, including discrimination in accessibility and other complaints over which they have jurisdiction.
Architectural Access Board
1000 Washington Street
Suite 710
Boston, MA 02118
Main: (617) 727-0660
Architectural Access Board complaint
"If you believe you have identified a violation of 521 CMR, you have the right to file a complaint with the Architectural Access Board."
Massachusetts Attorney General's Civil Rights Division
Main: (617) 963-2917 (Mass relay dial 7-1-1 and connect via main number)
File a civil rights complaint
"[R]esponds to complaints related to civil rights and civil liberties. The office takes enforcement action when necessary and can mediate disputes." Contact the Division for equal rights law violations.
Secretary of the Commonwealth, Elections Division
One Ashburton Place
Room 1705
Boston, MA 02108
Voters with disabilities
"Please let us know if you have suggestions about how we can improve our accessibility. You can call the Elections Division at
1-800-462-VOTE (8683), contact us using TTY at 1-800-720-3480, or email us at elections@sec.state.ma.us."
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Main: 800-514-0301
TTY: 1-833-610-1264 (TTY)
File a complaint
"The Americans with Disabilities Act provides an important tool to fight discrimination: filing a complaint with an appropriate federal agency."

 

Technical information and guidance

Massachusetts Office on Disability
One Ashburton Place, Room 1305
Boston, MA 02108
Main: (617) 727-7440


Agency decisions

Architectural Access Board complaint decisions

"Orders and decisions issued by the Massachusetts Architectural Access Board in cases arising from complaints alleging a violation of the Board's regulations."

Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination hearing decisions

Collections include hearing decisions on discrimination complaints brought before MCAD.


Print sources

ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and its impact on public accommodations and commercial facilities by Jonathan R. Mook, LexisNexis Matthew Bender, 2009.

ADA & website accessibility by Marc J. Rachman, MCLE, 2023.

Elder and disability law in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2023.

Federal disability law in a nutshell by Ruth Colker, 6th ed., West Academic Publishing, 2019.

Legal rights of individuals with disabilities, 3rd ed., MCLE New England, 2021.

Massachusetts discrimination law reporter: MDLR, Massachusetts Labor Relations Reporter.

Service animals & the law, MCLE, 2021.

Understanding the ADA by William D. Goren, 4th ed., American Bar Association, 2013.


Contact   for Massachusetts law about disability rights in public spaces and government services

Last updated: April 17, 2024

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