Accessibility Resource Center

Section 504

Section 504
The Law and Its Impact on Post-Secondary Education

WHAT IS THE LAW?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that:
No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of …disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

WHO IS PROTECTED UNDER THE LAW?

A “person with a disability” includes any person 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 an impairment or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.
A “qualified person with a disability” is defined as one who meets the requisite academic and technical standards required for admission or participation in the postsecondary institution’s programs and activities. Section 504 protects the civil rights of individuals who are qualified to participate and who have disabilities including, but not limited to, the following:
• Blindness or visual impairments
• Chronic illnesses, such as:
AIDS
Arthritis
Cancer
Cardiac diseases
Diabetes
• Psychiatric disabilities
• Deafness or hearing impairments
• Drug or alcohol addiction (Section 504 covers former users and those in recovery
programs and not currently using alcohol or illegal drugs.)
• Epilepsy or seizure disorders
• Mental retardation
• Orthopedic impairment
• Specific learning disability
• Speech disorder
• Spinal cord or traumatic brain injury
• Neurological and neuro-muscular disorders

WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF THE LAW ON POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION?

Colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance must not discriminate in the recruitment, admission, or treatment, of students. Students with documented disabilities may request modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids which will enable them to participate in and benefit from all postsecondary educational programs and activities. Postsecondary institutions make such changes, when appropriate, to ensure that the academic program is accessible to the greatest extent possible by all students with disabilities.

UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF SECTION 504, UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES MAY NOT:

• Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted;
• Make preadmission inquiries as to whether an applicant is disabled;
• Use admissions tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications
of disabled students because appropriate modifications were not made for them;
• Exclude a qualified student with disability from any course of study;
• Limit eligibility of a student with a disability for financial assistance or otherwise
discriminate in administering scholarship, fellowships, internships, or assistantships
on the basis of disability;
• Counsel a student with a disability toward a more restrictive career;
• Measure student achievement using modes that adversely discriminate against a student
with a disability; —OR—
• Establish policies, practices or procedures that may adversely affect students with
disabilities.

WHAT CAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES DO TO IMPLEMENT PROGRAM MODIFICATIONS?

For college students with disabilities, academic adjustments may include adaptations in the way specific courses are conducted, the use of auxiliary equipment and support staff, and modifications in academic requirements. A college or university has the flexibility to select the specific aid or service it provides, as long as it is effective. Such aids or services should be selected in consultation with the student who will use them.

Modifications may include:
• Remove architectural barriers;
• Providing services such as readers for blind or learning disabled individuals, qualified
interpreters and notetakers for deaf and hard of hearing students, or notetakers for
students with learning disabilities or mobility impairments. (Colleges and universities
may, but need not, provide aids, devices or services of a personal nature, such as
personal assistants, wheelchairs, or specially certified tutor.);
• Providing modifications, substitutions, or waivers of courses, major fields of study, or
degree requirements on a case-by-case basis (such accommodations need not be made if the
institution can demonstrate that the changes requested would substantially alter
essential elements of the course or program.);
• Allowing extra time to complete exams;
• Permitting examinations to be individually proctored, read orally, dictated, or typed;
• Increasing the frequency of tests or examinations;
• Changing test formats (e.g., from multiple choice to essay);
• Using alternative forms for students to demonstrate course master (e.g., a narrative
tape instead of a written journal); and
• Permitting the use of computer software programs or other assistive technological
devices to assist in test-taking and study skills.

RESOURCES:

US Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, www.2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html

US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
www.eeoc.gov/policly/rehab.html

JAN-Job Accommodation Network
askjan.org

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) is an international, multicultural organization of professionals committed to full participation in higher education for persons with disabilities. AHEAD is a vital resource, promoting excellence through education, communication, and training. For membership information visit us at www.ahead.org
To order copies of this brochure, visit the publications section of our web site: www.ahead.org
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