Legislation Pertaining to Postsecondary Education and Disabilities
There are three federal laws that are considered key elements in enhancing the participation
of disabled individuals in postsecondary settings. They are:
- Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- The Americans With Disabilities Act
- The Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008
- Section 508 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The term “reasonable accommodations” is a concept often associated with this legislation.
In education, the term indicates practices used to promote the inclusion and success
of students with disabilities without compromising course or program rigor. In colleges
and universities, reasonable accommodations may be something as straightforward as
providing physical access to facilities, such as curb cuts, special parking, or elevators
and ramps where needed. Within the classroom, the practice of providing a note taker
and sign language interpreter to a deaf student, or allowing the use of a tape recorder
in class to a student who has a learning disability is another example. A less frequent
example may include course modification, such as changing the nature of a field trip
for a student who cannot walk easily, or modifying a class project so that a student
with a disability has an equal opportunity to demonstrate his or her competence. View other examples of disability and accommodation scenarios.
The act of providing these types of accommodations is essentially one of equity.
Often, with slight modifications beyond the “norm,” students with even severe disabilities
thrive and succeed. Instructors are encouraged to talk directly with students and
to the Learning Assistance Program staff about how they can provide the best learning
experience possible for students with disabilities.
Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is essentially civil rights legislation that prevents discrimination solely
on the basis of disability for otherwise qualified persons. “Otherwise qualified,”
means a student who has the academic and intellectual potential to succeed in a given
course, and who has a disability recognized under this law. Among other things, a
person with a disability is defined as one who has a physical or mental impairment
that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The guidelines derived
from the law pertain to any postsecondary education entity receiving federal funds.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
The ADA advanced the provisions of equal opportunity provided by Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act into all public programs and services, such as transportation,
employment and hiring practices, and businesses of all types. However, unlike Section
504, the ADA’s regulations apply regardless of whether or not a business or organization
receives federal funds. Under the law, “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability
shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation
in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program
or activity of a public entity.”
The scope of the Americans with Disabilities Act has dramatically changed the scope
of opportunities for individuals with disabilities who wish to participate in society
as equal members. Improved access to public transportation, restaurants, businesses,
state and national parks, and educational entities are but a few of the changes made
possible by this statute.
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES AMENDMENTS ACT (ADAAA) OF 2008
Congress passed the ADAAA of 2008 and it was signed into law in January 2009. The
ADAAA was written to better provide definition to the intent of the ADA for the purposes
of court interpretations and to further provide changes that apply to Section 504.
Relevant changes that relate to classroom accommodations include, but are not limited
- The definition of "major life activities" was expanded to include learning, reading,
concentration, and thinking. Additionally, the definition of "major bodily functions"
was expanded to include neurological and brain functions.
- The ADAAA requires the limitation on major life activity be interpreted broadly.
- Conditions that are episodic or in remission are covered when they are active.
- Under the ADAAA a person cannot be denied protection simply because he or she uses
a mitigating measure, such as taking medication or using a hearing aid.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
This section of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to ensure that the federal government
itself would provide equal access to disabled citizens in terms of electronically
distributed information and services. Section 508 requires that individuals with disabilities
who are seeking information and services from federal agencies have access to that
data in a way comparable to that provided by individuals without disabilities. This
led to the adoption of standards for electronic accessibility such as web pages that
could be easily used by blind consumers, or video clips within web pages that are
captioned for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Although Section 508 does not specifically apply to entities outside the federal
government*, it's impact has been far reaching. The accessibility standards for information
technology that developed following its’ passage have been adopted and improved upon
by other organizations. In addition, the Americans With Disabilities Act mandates
equal access to electronic media. The combination of these laws has strengthened universal
electronic access and promoted recognized standards and resources for web developers
*In March 2003, the General Counsel of the California Colleges Chancellor’s Office
issued Legal Opinion M 03-09, which states that Section 508 applies to California
community colleges. Therefore, information technology developed, purchased, or licensed
by California community colleges must comply with the requirements of Section 508.
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