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Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

There are two laws, which directly affect students with disabilities in the postsecondary setting: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that if the institution receives funds from the federal government, it may not discriminate on the basis of disability. Section 504 of this legislation (Program Access Statute) asserts that persons with a disability who are otherwise qualified may not be denied access to, the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any institution or entity receiving federal financial assistance. Subpart E of Section 504 does not require that special educational programming be developed for students with disabilities; however, Subpart E does require public and private institutions to make appropriate academic adjustments and make reasonable modifications to policies and practices to allow full participation of students with disabilities in the same programs and activities to students without disabilities.

In the college setting, a student who is "otherwise qualified" must meet the college's admission requirements and meet the academic and technical requisites for participation in a particular course of study. The student must be able to perform the essential job functions with or without accommodation and the schools and certifying boards have the right to define and identify those essential functions.

Historically, most disputes concerning accommodations under the Rehabilitation Act have been handled through complaints to the Office of Civil Rights. However, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act strengthened the student's right to litigate. Civil suits can be filed against individual faculty and staff as well as against the institution. If a prima facie case for intentional discrimination can be made, such suits may be decided by a jury trial and include punitive as well as compensatory damages.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 states that even if operational funds do not derive from the federal government, the institution may not discriminate on the basis of disability.

  • Title II, Subpart A: State and local government entities and programs must be accessible to persons with disabilities.
  • Title III: Programs, goods, and services provided by private entities to the public must be accessible and available.
  • Title II and Title III mandate communication and access in postsecondary settings.

    In the college and university setting, providing accommodations for students is a civil rights issue - a matter of nondiscrimination and access. It does not mean that we must provide whatever accommodation the student needs to be successful, nor must we provide an individualized educational plan (IEP) like those the student may have received in high school. In the postsecondary setting, we must offer equal opportunity to participate and equal access to information, but the institution does not have to guarantee equal outcomes or equal results.

    For students with learning disorders so severe that the student qualifies as having a disability under ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, access is provided by identifying and providing reasonable accommodations.


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    Contact CDS Updated 03/11/02