Legal Rights of Students with Disabilities
Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first legislation protecting individuals with disabilities by ensuring access to and non-discrimination in any programs/activities that receive federal assistance. "Section 504" dictates that reasonable accommodations, including academic adjustments, be provided to all persons with disabilities who participate in federally funded programs.
The Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act of 2008 (ADA, P.L. 101-336) extends protection to all persons with disabilities. The ADAA requires organizations to make reasonable accommodations for individuals who have known physical or mental disabilities and who are "otherwise qualified."
Legal Definition of a "Disability"
A "disability" is defined as a mental or physical impairment that "substantially limits one or more major life activities.". "Major life activities" include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. Impairments that substantially limit one major life activity do not need to limit other major life activities to be considered disabilities. Furthermore, the term includes the operation of major bodily functions, including functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine and reproductive functions.
The implications for persons who are seeking a college education are as follows:
- No quotas may be placed on the number of disabled students accepted into a program.
- No tests or other measures may be required for admission that have a disproportionate adverse impact on individuals unless they have been validated as a predictor of academic success in the education program or activity in question.
- Students with disabilities must be afforded equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from all post-secondary education programs, including education programs and activities not operated wholly by the participant.
- Programs and activities involving disabled students must be provided in the most integrated setting possible.
- In certain circumstances, modifications to academic requirements must be made to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled students. This does not mean that standard fundamentals to a given program must be altered.
- Rules that limit a disabled student's ability to complete a course of study may not be unreasonably imposed.
- Schools must ensure that disabled students are not denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or otherwise discriminated against with regard to educational program or activity due to the absence of auxiliary aids.*
Financial and Employment Assistance
- Schools offering financial aid or Federal Work Study must do so in a non-discriminatory manner.
- Disabled students must have equal opportunity to participate in all physical education and athletic activities if otherwise qualified to do so.
- Counseling services, including academic, personal and career, must be provided in a non-discriminatory manner.
- Counselors may not direct qualified disabled students towards more-restrictive careers than they would non-disabled students with similar interests and abilities.
- The university must provide accessible, comparable and convenient housing.
- Organizations that receive significant assistance from the university must select members in a non-discriminatory manner.