The Americans with Disabilities Act, Federal & State Law

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What is The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

The ADA is the civil rights law for persons with disabilities in the United States. It provides protection from discrimination for individuals on the basis of disability. The ADA extends civil rights protections for people with disabilities to employment in the private sector, transportation, public accommodations, services provided by state and local government, and telecommunications relay services. The significance of this legislation is no less than the civil rights acts in the 1960s for minorities.

Who are individuals with disabilities?

A person with a disability is anyone with a physical or mental impairment (has a history of such a condition, or perceived by others to be disabled) that substantially impairs or restricts one or more major life activities such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. The term physical or mental impairment includes, but is not limited to: speech, hearing, visual, and mobility impairments, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, AIDS, mental retardation, emotional illness, and specific learning disabilities such as perceptual handicaps, brain injury, dyslexia, minimal brain dysfunction, and developmental aphasia.

Does the ADA affect students at post-secondary institutions?

Post-secondary institutions that receive federal money have been required to comply with a similar disability nondiscrimination law -Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA upholds and extends the standards for compliance set forth in Section 504 to employment and promotion practices, meeting planning, and communications.

What specifically will the ADA mean to post-secondary education communities?

Renewed attention will be focused on disability access to the institutions’ facilities and programs; as well as employment and promotion issues. Personnel will be asked to make some of these “reasonable accommodations” for persons with disabilities qualified to work in campus offices and departments. Some elements of these changes might be:

  1. Changes in examinations, training materials, and training policies.
  2. Providing qualified readers or interpreters.
  3. Reassignment of disabled employees to fill positions.
  4. Job restructuring.
  5. Making existing facilities readily accessible.
  6. Part-time or modified work schedules.
  7. Altering equipment or devices where necessary to accommodate disabled employees.

Personnel in the campus disability services office, who are a prime resource for campus accessibility, may also be called upon for information on accessibility to business and public accommodations in the campus community.

Because the ADA will increase access to employment, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications, there will be a marked increase of persons with disabilities on the campus and in the surrounding community.

How will post secondary institutions benefit from the ADA?

Improved access by private business and public transportation will increase use of campus education, recreational, and cultural facilities and programs, possibly generating new income and increased enrollment. Also, an increased number of qualified students with disabilities will enhance the cultural diversity of the campus.

By educating and graduating a larger number of persons with disabilities, post-secondary institutions fill a need in business and industry by providing a qualified pool of workers for an anticipated labor shortage in the next decade. Alumni with disabilities who are working in business and industry are highly credible endorsements for an institutions’ programs and faculty.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation: The Law and Its Impact

What Is The Law?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that:

“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

One of the first areas that required further elaboration in the Act concerned the term “qualified handicapped individual.” Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1974 in an attempt to clarify participant eligibility.

Section 7 (6) of the Act was amended by adding the following new sentence: “For purposes of Titles IV and V of this Act, such term means any person who (A) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities (B) has a record of such impairment, or (C) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

Who Is Protected Under The Law?

A “qualified handicapped person” is defined as one who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the institution’s programs and activities. This would include students with any of the following disabilities:

  • AIDS
  • Alcoholism
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Blindness/visual impairment
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness/hearing impairment
  • Diabetes
  • Drug addiction
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Mental illness
  • Mental retardation
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Orthopedic, or speech problems
  • Perceptual handicaps, such as dyslexia, or developmental aphasia

What Is The Impact Of The Law On Post Secondary Education?

Subpart E of Section 504 is applicable to all post-secondary educational programs and activities which receive Federal financial assistance. In brief, colleges and universities must be free from discrimination in their recruitment, admissions, and treatment of students. Reasonable accommodations in the academic program must be made by the educational institution to ensure maximal participation by all students with disabilities.

Under the provisions of Section 504, colleges and universities may not:

  • Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted.
  • Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant is disabled.
  • Use admission tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic level of blind, deaf, or otherwise disabled applicants, because special provisions were not made for them.
  • Exclude a student from a course of study.
  • Counsel a student with a disability toward a more restrictive career.
  • Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against the student with a disability.
  • Institute prohibitive rules that may adversely affect students with disabilities.

Colleges and Universities could be required to:

  • Extend the time permitted for a student with a disability to earn a degree.
  • Modify teaching methods and examinations to meet the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Develop course substitutions or waivers for students with disabilities.
  • Make available such learning aids as four-track tape recorders, word processors, and pocket spell-checkers for students with disabilities.

According to the NEW regulations, accommodations need not produce the “identical result or level of achievement.”

What Can Colleges And Universities Do To Implement Program Modification Provisions?

Colleges and universities have sought to implement program modification provisions by developing affirmative programs that stress individualization and personal attention. For college students with disabilities “academic adjustments” may include adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted, the use of auxiliary equipment and support staff, and modification in academic requirements.

These students need support services or programs that can provide them with sufficient flexibility to meet the demands of a post-secondary institution.

“Reasonable and timely” accommodations that post-secondary institutions can implement for program modifications may include these options:

  • Modify or substitute foreign language or mathematics course requirements.
  • Allow part-time enrollment instead of full-time study without affecting financial aid status.
  • Permit examinations to be proctored, read orally, dictated, or typed.
  • Allow the proctor to clarify examination questions that are unclear.
  • Allow extra time for completion of examinations. Increase the frequency of exams or quizzes.
  • Change the test format (e.g., multiple choice to essay).
  • Permit use of basic four-function calculators and standard desk dictionaries during examinations.
  • Use alternative methods for student to demonstrate course mastery (e.g., a narrative tape instead of a journal).
  • Review final drafts of term papers with a proofreader and make changes without altering content.
  • Provide specially trained tutors for content courses.
  • Provide readers, scribes, or note takers.
  • Secure removal of structural or architectural barriers.
  • Utilize computer software programs to assist in test-taking and study skills development.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

To ensure that the federal government would not perpetuate the discrimination that the vocational rehabilitation system was designed to mitigate, Congress enacted civil rights protections for people with disabilities. On August 7, 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (19 U.S.C. 794d) to expand the federal government’s responsibility to provide electronic and information technology which is accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act specifically covers federal agencies but has an impact on the greater public.

Section 508 requires federal departments or agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, to ensure that the electronic and information technology is accessible. Section 508 requires that individuals with disabilities seeking information or services from a federal department or agency, have access to, and use of, information and data comparable to that provided to individuals without disabilities. For example, government Web sites must provide access for blind users who use speech output systems. If any video clips are used they must have captions and descriptions. Visual images should also be audio-described so that people who are blind or deaf have equal access.

In response to Section 508 the AccessBoard has created accessibility standards for information technology. Although developed for federal agencies they have been adopted by some postsecondary institutions to assure the accessibility of information technology procured, developed, or used on campus.

To sum up, federal legislation requires that we accept otherwise qualified students with disabilities into our academic programs. Additionally, we should work with students to identify and implement reasonable accommodations that will grant them access to educational opportunities. There are experienced staff on campus to assist instructors in understanding the effects of disabilities on the learning process and of state, federal, and other relevant legislation. With your cooperation, together with the students and campus services, accommodation strategies can be implemented successfully.

Guide To Disability and Washington State Nondiscrimination Laws

The Washington State Human Rights Coalition has developed a document that seeks to clarify laws and relevant precedents in state disability law and interpretation. Please visit The Washington State Human Rights Coalition online and view their document, Guide To Disability and Washington State Nondiscrimination Laws.

Last Updated May 19, 2022