- Learning Objectives
- Disability Related Civil Rights Laws: Section 504/ADA
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- Comparing Section 504/ADA to the IDEA
- Defining “Disability” in Federal Laws
- Student Responsibilities
- Institution and Faculty Responsibilities
- Physical and Cognitive Access
- The Role of Universal Design In Higher Education
Disability Related Civil Rights Laws: Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Both Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act are civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination against qualified students with disabilities. Both laws deal with accessibility to both physical and instructional environments. Passed in 1973, Section 504 is the seminal civil rights law related to disability. Although the law has important ramifications for students, faculty, and postsecondary education, the key wording of the law is fairly brief. The regulations state:
What does this mean?
- First, a “recipient” refers to any postsecondary institution that receives federal financial assistance. This includes, but is not limited to, grant money, money for construction, and student financial aid. As a result, most public and private institutions are covered under the law. Exceptions to this are the U.S. Military Academies and those private institutions that do not accept any form of federal funds.
- Second, the regulations specify that institutions must consider modifications to academic requirements that might discriminate against a student with a disability. These modifications might include extended time to complete degree requirements, the substitution of particular required courses (e.g., foreign language courses), and providing reasonable accommodations within a particular course.
- Third, if an academic requirement is considered essential for a plan of study, for professional licensure, or for entry into a particular career, it does not need to be modified. For example, as previously noted, institutions must consider substitution of foreign language requirements for students with disabilities if the nature of the disability precludes the completion of a foreign language requirement even with a reasonable accommodation. However, if a student is in a major in which such study is determined to be an essential requirement (e.g., International Business, some Liberal Arts programs), substitution of a course or courses is not required (Madaus, 2010; McGuire, 2010).
- Fourth, both Section 504 and the ADA note that students with disabilities must be otherwise “qualified” (34 C.F.R. §104.3(l)(3); 42 U.S.C. §1231(2)). In other words, an applicant with a disability must meet the same admissions criteria as all other applicants. The institution cannot make preadmisison inquiries about a disability, nor can it judge the applicant against a different or higher standard because of a disclosed disability, nor does the institution need to modify its admissions requirement for students because of the disability. Students with disabilities who are enrolled in an institution must meet the same academic requirements (e.g., grade point average, graduation requirements; criteria for admission to a major or program) as other students.
- Fifth, both Section 504 and the ADA require that postsecondary educational institutions provide auxiliary aids and services to students with disabilities (34 C.F.R. §104.44(d); 28 C.F.R. §36.303). More information about these topics is provided later in this module.
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