The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is defined as a person who: (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities; (2) has a record of such impairment; or (3) is regarded as having such impairment. Major life activities include but are not limited to walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.
The ADA prohibits discrimination solely on the basis of disability in employment, public services, and accommodations. The person in consideration must be otherwise qualified for the job, program, or service.
The ADA details administrative requirements, complaint procedures, and the consequences for non-compliance related to both services and employment. The ADA requires provision of reasonable, effective accommodations for eligible students across educational activities and settings.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance. Section 504 includes institutions regardless of whether they have open door, selective, or competitive admissions practices.
People with disabilities have the same legal remedies that are available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended in 1991. Thus, individuals who are discriminated against may file a complaint with the relevant federal agency or sue in federal court. Enforcement agencies encourage informal mediation and voluntary compliance.
How these Laws Apply to Higher Education
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were designed to ensure that colleges and universities are free from discrimination in their recruitment, admission, and treatment of students.
In the application of both laws, students with disabilities must be qualified to participate in University activities. A qualified student with a disability is one who meets the admission and essential eligibility requirements of a program or service, with or without:
- modifications of rules, policies, or procedures;
- removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers;
- provision of auxiliary aids and services.
Individuals who pose a direct threat to their own health or safety or the health or safety of others will not be considered qualified.
The law requires higher education institutions to ensure that all programs, services, or facilities are accessible to or usable by persons with disabilities. The law does NOT require:
- making each facility accessible if alternatives are effective;
- a fundamental alteration of programs or services;
- undue financial or administrative burden.
The University is under no obligation to change academic requirements which the University, programs, or majors can demonstrate are essential to the program of instruction or to any direct licensing requirement.
The University does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature, such as tutoring or typing (United States Office of Civil Rights, July, 2002).
The institution must provide auxiliary aids to ensure the participation of students in college classes and activities and must accommodate the academic participation of qualified students with disabilities. The institution must NOT:
- limit the number of students with disabilities admitted;
- make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant has a disability;
- use admission tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic level of visually impaired, hearing impaired, or otherwise disabled applicants because special provisions were not made for them;
- exclude students with disabilities from any course of study solely on the basis of their disability;
- counsel students with disabilities towards a more restrictive career than non-disabled students, unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or certification requirements in a profession;
- measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against students with disabilities;
- institute prohibitive rules (such as the barring of tape recorders or other auxiliary aids) that may adversely affect the performance of students with disabilities;
- select a site or a facility that would exclude participation of persons with disabilities.
The law does not require special treatment of students with disabilities, but does require that students be given the opportunity for equal participation in the University’s programs. This is done by providing to eligible and qualified students appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids necessary to facilitate the students’ fullest possible participation in the University’s academic programs.