Disability Laws in Higher Education


Students with disabilities are entitled by laws to equal access to a post secondary education. The rights of students are protected by two federal laws. They are Section 504 of Rehabilitation of 1973 – Section 504 (Pub. L. No. 93-112) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Pub. L. No. 101-336). 

THE REHABILITATION ACT OF 1973-SECTION 504

Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is generally regarded as the first civil rights legislation on the national level for people with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a program access statue. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity offered by an entity or institution receiving federal funds.  Section 504 states (as amended):

“No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States …shall, solely on the basis of 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.”  

THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990 (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a federal civil rights statue that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. There are four sections of the law: employment, government, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The ADA provides additional protection for persons with disabilities in conjunction with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA is designed to remove barriers, which prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities that are available to persons without disabilities.

Post secondary institutions are covered in many ways under the ADA. Employment is addressed by Title I, transportation (public services) are addressed in Title II, public accommodations and services are addressed in Title III (Private clubs and religious organizations are exempt), Telecommunications is addressed in Title IV, and miscellaneous items are addressed under Title V. 

ADA and SECTION 504

Institutions that receive federal funds are covered under Section 504. The ADA does not supplant Section 504, but those situations where the ADA provides greater protection the ADA standards apply. Therefore, post secondary institutions must adhere to both the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

THE REHABILITATION ACT of 1998 – SECTION 508

In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Section 508 requires that electronic and information technology developed, procured, used, or maintained by all agencies and department of the Federal Government be accessible both to Federal employers with disabilities and to members of the public with disabilities, and that these two groups have equal use of technologies as federal employers and member of the public who do not have disabilities.

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