The Reagan administration wants to slim down the nation's main civil rights law that affects an estimated 35 million handicapped people.
Groups representing the handicapped are critical of the suggested changes to the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, including one that would allow institutions to judge a handicapped person's ''potential contributions to society'' in deciding how to grant him access to the facility.
The act now bars discrimination against the handicapped by recipients of federal funds, including transit authorities, airports, schools, hospitals and other health facilities, libraries, and public housing projects. The statute's most visible results include access ramps to buildings and special buses to serve the disabled.
The Justice Department sent the Office of Management and Budget proposed changes to the act, and that office reportedly replied by urging bigger changes.