The former Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now the Department of Health and Human Services, which has led the way in helping the handicapped participate in federally financed activities, has now turned the guns on itself.

A new rule published in the Federal Register requires HHS contractors holding meetings, seminars and conferences to make those events fully accessible to people with disabilities.

Each contractor must ascertain before the meeting how many disabled persons expect to attend the event, then must make certain the facilities, including parking, are available to meet their needs.

The deaf and blind, under the new rule, must be informed ahead of time so that they may contact the meeting organizers within five days of an event and notify them of the hearing or sight aids they need.

For the hearing impaired, a meeting must have qualified interpreters, volume-controlled telephone lines and if needed, teletype equipment for those who cannot use a phone but need to send and receive messages.

For persons with sight problems, the meeting must have readers, Braille translations or tape recordings.

While the new rule will increase the costs for HHS contractors, the agency explained that the majority of these affairs are "cost-reinbursement contracts, so the contractor would be able to recover the costs."