Disability Services - Summary
of Applicable Laws
are three principal federal laws which affect individuals with disabilities
transitioning from high school to post-secondary environments of work
and/or education. These are 1) The Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) , 2) The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and 3) Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (§504). In addition, there
are state statutes which impact this group.
is the federal special education law. Initially passed in 1975, it places
an affirmative obligation on school districts to locate, identify, and
serve children with disabilities from age 3 through 21 or high school
graduation. IDEA provides federal funding to schools to provide services
to children with disabilities. IDEA applies only to individuals who meet
the criteria for one or more specific conditions or impairments and who,
because of the impairment, require special education and related services.
Special education is specially designed instruction to meet the unique
needs of an individual with a disability. Identification of eligibility
is made by a group of people including the parents or adult pupil, special
education teachers, regular education teachers and others with knowledge
of the individual. There are procedural safeguards to protect the rights
of these persons and ensure school compliance with the obligations established
districts are required to provide a free appropriate public education
(FAPE) to each child with a disability. FAPE is defined by an individualized
education program (IEP), which must be reviewed and revised at least annually.
The IEP contains measurable annual goals, with short term objectives and
benchmarks, a statement of the special education and related services
to be provided to the child, and beginning at age 14, statements relating
to transition to life after secondary school. State law nearly mirrors
ADA and §504 differ significantly from IDEA. They are civil rights
legislation. The focus of each is to prohibit discrimination on the basis
of disability. Section 504 applies to entities that receive federal funds,
including high schools, colleges, and universities. While the basic prohibition
against discrimination on the basis of disability is the same under the
ADA and §504, the ADA has a broader coverage. It is not limited to
only those organizations and institutions that receive federal funds.
the IDEA, the ADA and §504 do not provide funding for accommodations
and services. Some individuals in public school may not be eligible under
IDEA but may be protected by §504 and the ADA. Section 504 and the
ADA prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. In the words of
§504: “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability…shall,
solely by reason of her or his 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.”
An individual with a disability is broadly defined as an individual who “(i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits
one or more of such person’s major life activities; (ii) has a record
of such impairment; or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.”Major
life activities means “functions such as caring for one’s
self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing,
learning, and working.” Generally, the major life activity must
relate to access, or participation in, the program or activity for which
accommodations are sought. In the educational environment, the major life
activity most considered is learning. The individual’s impairment
typically must affect learning in such situations.
is not an obligation under ADA and §504 for organizations to actively
seek out individuals with disabilities. There is an obligation to ensure
that programs and services of the school, college, or university are accessible
to the individual with a disability. This can be an issue of providing
physical accessibility or providing aids and services to enable the individual
to benefit from the program. The individual with a disability is required
to make the organization aware of the existence of a disability.
the organization becomes aware that an individual has a disability, the
organization determines the accommodations it will provide. The organization
will usually request documentation supporting the current existence of
a disability and its impact on the individual. The individual is responsible
for providing the needed documentation.When
an individual with a disability disagrees with the sufficiency or appropriateness
of the accommodations provided, there are procedures within the organization
and through external enforcement to appeal the decisions of the organization.
Enforcement of §504 is done by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR)
of the U.S. Department of Education. The ADA is enforced by the U.S. Department
individual is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when the individual has an impairment
that substantially limits a major life activity.
In an academic setting,
the disorder must substantially limit a student’s ability to participate
equally in activities associated with learning and/or demonstration of
specific skills or knowledge. These activities may include but are not
limited to reading, writing, note-taking, listening, seeing, test-taking,
performing manual/motor-based skills, class attendance, or participation
in laboratory activities.
the K-12 system, post secondary institutions do not have an affirmative
duty to identify students with disabilities. Rather, students are responsible
for disclosing the presence of a disability, providing adequate disability
documentation to the institution, and requesting accommodations in a timely
manner. They also are responsible for abiding by the accommodation procedures
of the specific institution in which they are enrolled.
purpose of disability-related accommodations also changes in a post secondary
setting. The educational institution becomes responsible for providing
an opportunity for a student’s educational success, rather than
meeting an obligation to provide a free and appropriate education (FAPE).
Accommodations are customized for each student to the extent that the
specific impact of the disability is appropriately accommodated. Post
secondary disability service providers are responsible for assessing eligibility
for services that provide equal access to educational activities. This
assessment has three components: disability documentation, accommodation
history, and an intake process with the disability services office.
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