University responsibilities to individuals with disabilities are mandated by two main pieces of federal legislation. They are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both are civil rights statutes aimed at preventing discrimination against individuals on the basis of their disability. It is the policy of USU to comply with the fundamental principles of nondiscrimination and accommodation set forth in both of these laws.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first law to specifically address the needs of students with disabilities. It states in part:
No qualified student with a disability shall, on the basis of disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or otherwise be subjected to discrimination under any ... postsecondary education program or activity ... [Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, 84.43]
An institution shall make such modifications to its academic requirements as are necessary to ensure that such requirements do not discriminate or have the effect of discrimination on the basis of handicap, against a qualified handicapped applicant or student ... Modifications may include changes in the length of time permitted for the completion of degree requirements, substitution of specific courses required for the completion of degree requirements, and adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted. [Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, 84.44]
The ADA was passed in 1990 to support and supplement existing disability laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. ADA legislation seeks to assure equal access for persons with disabilities in the areas of education, training, and employment. The mandates of the ADA apply to all institutions of higher education, regardless of the receipt of federal funds.
Under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as any person who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities,
- has a record of such impairment, or
- is regarded as having such an impairment.
The ADA also provides clarification of the Section 504 phrase “otherwise qualified” individual with a disability, as one whom either: “…with or without reasonable modification to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity.”
In summary, these laws hold four very important implications for educators:
- Students with disabilities have the right to be in higher education. Once a student with a disability has met the University entrance or admission criteria, with or without the use of accommodations, he or she has the same right as any other student to the educational experience. Just like any other student, those with disabilities are responsible for determining their own level of success.
- Once they are enrolled, students with disabilities have the right to access all of the programs, both academic and nonacademic, that are available to other students. Instructors cannot refuse to work with a student simply because they know he or she has a disability or because they are concerned that having a disability would prevent him or her from being successful. Furthermore, students with disabilities should be held to the same set of standards and criteria as students without disabilities.
- Students with disabilities are eligible for accommodations that relate to their disabilities. Instructors need to be prepared to make adaptations or reasonable accommodations to their procedures and practices so that students with disabilities are able to do the same things that other college students are required to do. This may include altering or making changes in the delivery of lecture or course materials, or in the assessment of knowledge, in order to counter the effects of the disability.
- Students with disabilities have a right to confidentiality.