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Faculty Handbook

Appendix A: The Law

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504: As Applied to Colleges & Universities
An Overview of the Rights and Responsibilities of Students with Disabilities

by Jeanne M. Kincaid, Esq.

Congress passed Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973. It is a civil rights statute designed to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It provides that:

No otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States... shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance ... (Emphasis added). 29 USE § 794.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was modeled after Section 504, was signed into law in July 1990, but most provisions did not take effect until January 26, 1992 (i.e., Title II - governmental services; Title III - public accommodations) and July 26,1992 (i.e., Title I - employment provisions).

  • What is the major difference between Section 504 and the ADA?
    • Section 504 only applies to entities that receive federal financial assistance. Whereas the ADA covers most establishments whether privately owned or assisted with state and/or federal funds.
  • If a college or university is in compliance with Section 504, will it automatically be in compliance with the ADA?
    • In most instances, yes. However, to the extent that the ADA provides greater protections to individuals with disabilities, the college/university must comply with the ADA.
  • How is "otherwise qualified" defined under the ADA and Section 504?
    • Students must be able to meet the technical and academic qualifications for entry into the school, program or activity in order to be considered otherwise qualified.
  • Who is an "individual with a disability?"
    • A person who:
      • Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity.
      • Has a record or history of such an impairment.
      • Is regarded as having such an impairment.

Copyrighted 1994. Reproductions permitted only with the express consent of the author.
It is also unlawful to discriminate against someone solely because of his/her association with an individual with a disability.

  • What are "major life activities?"
    • Major life activities include, but are not limited to; walking, seeing, hearing & speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself and performing manual tasks.
  • What are some examples of disabling conditions?
    • All conditions which entitled a student to receive special education while attending grade school (e.g., mental retardation, learning disabilities, serious emotional disturbances), AIDS, cancer, alcohol or drug addiction (so long as the student is not a current user of unlawful drugs), environmental illness, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, asthma, physical disabilities, behavior disorders, etc., so long as the condition substantially limits a major life activity.
  • What are the obligations of students with disabilities?
    • In order to enjoy the protections of Section 504 and the ADA, the student has an obligation to self-identify that he/she has a disability and needs accommodation. The institution may require that the student provide appropriate documentation at student expense in order to establish the existence of the disability and the need for accommodation.
  • What are the institution's obligations under Section 504 and the ADA?
    • The institution must provide reasonable accommodations to the student's known disability in order to afford him/her an equal opportunity to participate in the institution's programs, activities and services (including extracurricular activities). A college or university may not discriminate against an individual solely on the basis of disability.
  • What are some examples of reasonable accommodations that an institution might be expected to provide its students who have disabilities?
    • An institution of higher education must provide a student academic adjustments to ensure that s/he receives an equal opportunity to participate. Examples of academic adjustments may include:
      • Additional time to complete tests, coursework, or graduation.
      • Substitution of nonessential courses for degree requirements.
      • Adaptation of course instruction.
      • Tape recording of classes; and modification of test taking/performance evaluations so as not to discriminate against students with sensory, manual or speaking impairments (unless such skills are the factors the test purports to measure).
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