U.S. Disability Laws

Information on the United States laws that protect people with disabilities

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 is an act of Congress, effective January 1, 2009, that amended the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and other disability nondiscrimination laws at the Federal level of the United States.

This act restored many of the protections established by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that were limited by Supreme Court decisions.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, enacted September 26, 1973, replaces preexisting laws (collectively referred to as the Vocational Rehabilitation Act). It provides for...

  • authorization of grants to States for vocational rehabilitation services
  • emphasizes services to those with the most severe disabilities
  • expands special Federal responsibilities and research and training programs with respect to individuals with disabilities
  • establishes special responsibilities in the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for coordination of all programs with respect to individuals with disabilities
  • requires affirmative action in employment by the federal government and its contractors
  • prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment by the federal government and its contractors along with programs conducted by federal agencies or that receive federal financial assistance

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act created and extended civil rights to people with disabilities in addition to providing opportunities for children and adults with disabilities in educational environments.

Disability definition

These laws define a disability as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities".

Impacts on post-secondary education

Requirements of the laws that are of major importance in the university setting:

  • 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.
  • 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
      • taped texts and readers in libraries
      • classroom equipment for use by faculty / staff / students with mobility impairments
      • other similar actions or services
    • Universities need not provide:
      • personal attendants
      • individually prescribed devices
      • readers for personal use or study
      • other devices or services of a personal nature
  • 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:
      • 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
      • 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.