Americans with Disabilities Act/ Rehabilitation Act of 1973

There are two federal laws which prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 504 applies if the school receives federal financial assistance. Title II of the ADA applies if the school is operated by the state, county, or a political subdivision of the state, county, or city, such as a community college district.

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides: 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... 29 U.S.C.'794(a)
  • Title II of the ADA which covers state-funded postsecondary institutions provides: No qualified individual with a disability... shall be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity... 42 U.S.C.'12132 (Supp. V).


To understand who is and who is not protected by the ADA, it is first neccessary to understand the Act's definition of an "individual with a disability" and then determine if the individual meets the Act's definition of a "qualified individual with a disability." A person with a disability is an individual who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of his/her major life activities
  • Has a record of such impairment
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment

Major Life Activities

To be a disability covered by the ADA, an impairment must substantially limit one or more major life activities. These are activities that an average person can perform with little or no difficulty.

Examples of major life activities are walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Reasonable Accomodations

  • Reasonable Accommodations are required by postsecondary institutions in order to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that students have equal educational access and are not discriminated against on the basis of disability.
  • Reasonable accommodations are determined based on disability and individual needs.
  • Accommodations may include auxiliary aids and services, as well as reducing a course load, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended time for testing, etc.