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Disability Legislation

Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is generally regarded as the first “civil rights” legislation for persons with disabilities on the national level. Included within the various sections of that Title are a call for nondiscrimination in federal agencies (Section 501) and the establishment of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Section 502). Of direct importance to the post secondary community are Sections 503 and 504.

Section 503. Section 503 mandates nondiscrimination on the basis of a disability in employment in institutions and entities that receive Federal financial assistance. Although Section 503 is not an affirmative action statute (i.e., there is no requirement to give preference in employment to qualified persons with disabilities), it is a mandate to actively encourage application and consideration for employment of disabled candidates.

Section 504. Section 504 is a program access statute. It requires that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by an institution or entity receiving Federal financial assistance. It is this Section 504 mandate that has promoted the development of disability support service programs in colleges and universities across the country over the last 15 years. Subpart E of Section 504 deals specifically with this mandate for institutions of higher education. While it does not require that special educational programming be developed for disabled students, it does require that an institution (public or private) be prepared to make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices in order to allow the full participation of students with disabilities in the same programs and activities available to non-disabled students.

Section 504. No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of handicap, 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.

Section 504 says that students in higher education must have equal access to:

Admissions into all programs
Participation in all courses
Participation in an integrated setting
Full use of equipment in the classroom
Modification of academic requirements
Auxiliary aids.
Comparable housing
Financial assistance
Benefits of job placement
Physical education and athletics
Counseling and Guidance
Use of facilities


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law on July 26, 1990. This mandate reinforces the concept of reasonable accommodations in education and greater access to employment, transportation, and public accommodations.

The legal imperative, embodied in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, often referred to as the ‘Civil Rights Act’ for people with disabilities, states, in part:
No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall solely by reason of his/her handicap, 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.

In order to comply with this mandate, universities and colleges that receive federal assistance must ensure that the same educational programs and services offered to other students are available to students with disabilities.

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