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Laws Impacting Postsecondary Education

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008

There are two major pieces of legislation that impact the provision of services and accommodations to faculty / students with disabilities in the university setting. They are the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008. Of direct importance is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which states:

No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States . . shall, solely on the basis of a disability, be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity provided by any institution receiving federal financial assistance.

With the passage of the ADAAA, this mandate from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was expanded to include any public or private institution. Subpart E of the Rehabilitation Act requires an institution to be prepared to make reasonable academic adjustments and accommodations to allow faculty / students with disabilities full participation in the same programs and activities available to faculty / students without disabilities. The ADAAA further reinforces these statutes. With relation to a university setting, a qualified person with a disability is one who meets the academic and technical standards required for admission or participation in the institution's educational programs or activities.

The following requirements of the laws are of major importance in the university setting:

  1. Institutions must ensure accessibility of programs and activities to faculty, staff and students with disabilities. Architectural barriers must be removed when the program is not accessible by other means. Faculty / staff / students with disabilities should have the same options available to others when selecting courses and majors.
  2. Faculty / staff / students with a disability must be provided with auxiliary aids and services in their academic activities. Auxiliary aids and services may include interpreters or other effective methods of making orally delivered material available to faculty / staff / students with hearing impairments; taped texts and readers in libraries for faculty / staff / students with visual impairments; classroom equipment for use by faculty / staff / students with mobility impairments; and other similar actions or services. Universities need not provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.
  3. Reasonable modifications must be made where necessary in nonessential academic requirements to ensure full educational opportunity for faculty / staff / students with disabilities. Such modifications may include the extension of time for completing degree requirements, substitutions of courses in nonessential degree requirements, adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted, permission to tape record lectures, and the use of service animals on campus.

Overall, modifications need not be made for academic requirements that can be demonstrated to be essential to the program being pursued or to any directly related licensing requirement.