Applicable Laws for Students with Disabilities

Two federal statutes govern the provision of disability services in higher education: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Unlike the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), which provides a free and appropriate education to individuals with disabilities in the K-12 school system, these statutes are civil rights laws that provide access and prevent discrimination for individuals with disabilities.

Under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, the definition of a disability will still be a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being recognized as having such an impairment.    Mitigating measures such as medications, may not be taken into account.  This bill returns the focus of the ADA to where it was meant to be – on whether a person with a disability is being discriminated against.

An accommodation is a modification to a program, task or event that allows an individual with a disability to participate fully. Accommodations must be effective to ensure equal access, but may not reduce program standards or present an undue financial or administrative burden to the institution.

Documentation is the report generated by the professional who has evaluated an individual’s disability and provides the official basis of the student’s claim that he or she is a person with a disabling condition. While the law allows the college to request this documentation, at the university, proof of a disability is not required for most accommodation requests.

The federal law ensures that disabilities do not prevent access to college admission or specific courses as well as mandating an accommodation process that students who seek accommodation for disabilities must initiate once they enroll.  The ADA requires an institution of higher education to provide reasonable accommodation to a qualified individual with a disability.

Post-secondary level education institutions must follow certain guidelines that include:

  • Excluding consideration of a learning disability when admitting a student to a program or course
  • Allowing auxiliary aids, such as tape recorders, translators, etc. when reasonable and appropriate for the level of the disability
  • Allow modification of degree or course requirements without altering the fundamental nature of the program (e.g. schools are not required to waive program requirements or modify learning criteria for students with disabilities.)
  • Developing alternative evaluation procedures appropriate for the level and type of disability