What are Laws Related to Disability?
Section 504 protects the rights of qualified individuals who have disabilities; the law defines a “qualified person with a disability” as one “who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the education program or activity.” Disabilities covered by legislation include (but are not limited to) AIDS, blindness, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, head injuries, hearing disabilities, specific learning disabilities, loss of limb(s), multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, emotional disabilities, speech disabilities, spinal cord injuries, and vision disabilities. Under the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, “The University may not discriminate in the recruitment, admission, educational process, or treatment of students. Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of disability, and requested reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive approved modifications of programs, appropriate academic adjustments, or auxiliary aids that enable them to participate in and benefit from all educational programs and activities.”
A Review of the Law
The following key legislation is reviewed:
1. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 (as amended, 2009)
3. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
4. Telecommunications Act of 1997
Rehabilitation Act of 1973
The purpose of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is to empower individuals with disabilities to gain employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, inclusion, and integration into society. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to ensure that any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of disability for otherwise qualified persons. A person with a disability is defined as any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such impairment.
Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for one’s self, and performing manual tasks.
For many years the Rehabilitation Act was seen as the cornerstone of disability rights legislation. Any post-secondary program receiving federal financial assistance has been required to provide accommodation for qualified people with disabilities since this Act. In fact, most post-secondary institutions must comply with Section 504, since almost all, even those that are private, receive federal funding of some type.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (as amended, 2009)
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, many provisions of Section 504 were extended to public and private companies who do not receive federal funding. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that people with disabilities be provided equal access to public programs and services. According to this law, no otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities shall, solely by reason of their disabilities, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in these programs. The ADA upholds and extends the standards for compliance set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to employment practices, communications, and all policies, procedures, and practices that impact the treatment of students with disabilities. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.”
Making a service or program accessible is the responsibility of the service or program.
When people think of the ADA they often think of on-site accessibility issues such as having ramps on buildings and reserved spaces in parking lots. However, ADA accessibility requirements also apply to programs offered on the Internet. The United States Department of Justice clarifies (“ADA Accessibility,” 1997),“Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.” Post-secondary level Web sites, which need to be used by students or the public, and software needed for coursework must be accessible to students using adaptive technology.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
To ensure that the federal government would not perpetuate the discrimination that the vocational rehabilitation system was designed to mitigate Congress enacted civil rights protections for people with disabilities. On August 7, 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (19 U.S.C. 794d) to expand the federal government’s responsibility to provide electronic and information technology which is accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act specifically covers federal agencies but has an impact on the greater public.
Section 508 requires Federal departments or agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, to ensure that the electronic and information technology is accessible. Section 508 requires that individuals with disabilities seeking information or services from a Federal department or agency, have access to, and use of, information and data comparable to that provided to individuals without disabilities.
Another statute that lays out accessibility requirements and standards is the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As more and more educational opportunities require technology, telecommunications, and computers, the accessibility issues continue to change. The Act includes regulatory reform and effects on other laws including the need of Internet and Web site accessibility standards, as well as captioning and audio description of video, and access to telephone services.