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Requirements and Legal Responsibilities

In higher education individuals with disabilities are protected by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (originally passed in 1973, with subsequent reauthorizations) and The Americans with Disabilities Act (passed in 1990).

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act mandate universities to have a process in place for securing reasonable accommodations for all eligible students. These laws are very different from IDEA, the law that governs K-12 institutions.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973
Section 504 was the first law that addressed individuals with disabilities and students with disabilities in a post secondary setting.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990
The ADA upholds and extends the standards for compliance set forth in Section 504 to employment practices, communications, and all policies, procedures and practices that impact on the treatment of students with disabilities.

The Law
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

The law mandates that all colleges and universities in the U.S. that receive financial assistance cannot discriminate in the recruitment, admission, and treatment of students with disabilities.

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

  • Limit the number of students with disabilities they admit
  • Ask questions on application materials that require the student to disclose a disability
  • Ask students to take preadmission tests without academic assistance for which they may be eligible
  • Exclude a qualified disabled student from any course or program on the basis of a disability
  • Counsel qualified disabled students to enter a more restrictive career (unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or certification requirements in a profession)
  • Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against the student with a disability
  • Institute prohibitive rules (such as barring tape recorders or auxiliary aids) that may adversely affect students with disabilities
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