Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects and considers a person disabled if he or she:
- Has a mental or physical impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities
- Has a record of such impairment
- Who while not actually disabled, is regarded as having such an impairment
- Has a record of being discriminated against because of being regarded as a person with a disability
- Having a person with a disability dependent on him or her (associated with a person who has a disability)
- Rather than specifying particular disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act set the criteria for an individual’s protections at the threshold of a “mental or physical impairment” that substantially limits any major life activity. It is terminology that is one central aspect of the process of determining whether a person has a civil right to accommodations for a disability. It is central language to watch for in reading rulings by the Office of Civil rights and court decisions related to disability services.
- In most cases, there is little dispute regarding whether an individual student has a “substantial” limitation or impairment. There is a large body of adjudication to aid colleges in deciding individual cases, as decisions made under the 1973 Rehabilitation Act reflect much of the same statutory language as included in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Verifying documents which determine a person’s mental or physical impairment and which describe the impairment adequately for the university to be able to determine the degree of resulting limitation of a major life activity to aid in the design of reasonable accommodations.
- Documentation must be provided by the student. All disabilities must be verified with documentation; a very few can be “documented” by the Disabled Student Services Department based upon observation in the office or on campus, in which case that observation will be recorded as documentation in the student’s file.
- That aspect of the documentation that is collected in a student’s file which verifies the existence of a disability. (See also definition of “documentation” above.)
- Verification must be provided by the student.
- Adjustments made in course materials or instructional methodology which do not change the essential nature of academic and technical standards of the course.
- Adjustments made in the physical attributes of a classroom such as provision of tables and/or chairs, which do not disrupt the essential activities of the class or program.
- Assistive technology made available to persons with disabilities in the Disabled Student Service Office.
Essential Nature of a Course
- This is language from applicable case law’ ref. The Davis decision. Colleges need to identify the essential elements of each course requirement and curriculum program; elements that are identified as “essential” after a student with disabilities has challenged or raised a question about the element will not stand program review. Colleges are not required to waive or substitute essential elements of programs.
- Reasonable is a term central to disability services and the design of accommodations.
- Colleges must provide reasonable accommodations to assure reasonable access to persons with disabilities for all institutional programs and services.
- A request for an accommodation which would waive an essential element of a course would be determined to be unreasonable. However, the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has yet to accept financial burden or cost as a reason for not providing a reasonable accommodation. Public post-secondary education institutions, with the resources of a state behind them, have not succeeded in claiming that cost factors have made accommodations unreasonable.
- A request for accommodation which would put the requesting student or others in danger would be considered an unreasonable accommodation.
- A request to provide SIGN interpretation, provide books in an altrnate format, multi-media resource materials or extended time for testing situations, would most likely be considered a reasonable accommodation request, if supported by verifying documentation.
- The staff of the Disabled Student Services Department maintains binders which include guidelines and Office of Civil Rights (OCR) or court decisions which aid in determining the reasonableness of accommodation requests and services.
- The term “Learning Disability” is a general term that refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual, presumed to be due to central nervous system dysfunction, and may occur across the life span. Problems in self-regulatory behaviors, social perception, and social interaction may exist with learning disabilities but do not by themselves constitute a learning disability. Although learning disabilities may occur concomitantly with other disabling conditions; sensory impairment, intellectual disability, serious emotional disturbance). They are not necessarily the result of those conditions or influences (National Joint committee on Learning Disabilities, 1988).