CETL — Disabilities Manual

Disabilities and the Law

Qualified students with disabilities may be entitled to reasonable educational accommodations. The legal basis for this was established by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112), which states:

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.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which reinforces and greatly extends the impact of previous legislation, was passed in 1990. The ADA makes it unlawful to discriminate against any qualified person with a disability in terms of employment, government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (P.L.101-476), was also established in 1990. IDEA helps to ensure that more students with disabilities are well prepared for college.

The detailed implications of these laws have been interpreted in some cases to provide for the following for students with documented disabilities:

  • No discrimination during the admissions process for qualified applicants.
  • Modification of academic courses so that there is no discrimination on the basis of disability. While the overall goals for the course should remain the same for all students, those with disabilities may require modifications in the way they achieve those standards.
  • For some students, alternative testing is an appropriate accommodation. The most common modification is extended time; another adjustment may include converting a multiple-choice exam to an essay exam, or vice versa.
  • Costs of required auxiliary services are to be borne by the college or university, not by the student. A number of recent court cases have tested the extent of the University’s financial obligation to students with special needs. It currently appears that the expenses of diagnosis and evaluation are to be paid by the student; the costs of adaptive equipment, taped texts, readers, scribes, and interpreters, if reasonable, are to be paid by the institution.