Appendix A: The Law
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504: As Applied to Colleges &
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
- Who is an "individual with a disability?"
- A person who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life
- 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.
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- 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
- 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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