Protecting Students with Disabilities – A History

Published: October 30, 2014

U.S. institutions of higher education are required to make their facilities accessible to individuals with disabilities. One example of a school that has taken this mandate to heart is Edinboro University (EU), which just recently installed a new door access solution for one of its students. In fact, EU, with its systems integrator Stanley Security, has gone above and beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Here is how the rights of students with disabilities have evolved over the past 40 years.

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

Under this legislation, higher education institutions are required to: (a) make programs and services physically accessible to all students, (b) provide certain auxiliary aids, such as readers, note-takers, extended exam periods and other offerings when necessary to enable a student with disabilities to aptly participate in courses and activities and (c) accommodate the academic participation of qualified students with disabilities without changing the essential requirements of the program. 

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1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is signed into legislation, providing anti-discrimination provisions and civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities in all areas of employment, public accommodations, state and local governmental services and telecommunications. Titles II through V of the Act apply specifically to students who attend higher education institutions.
2008: The ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) is passed, effective Jan. 1, 2009, and included a more inclusive definition of the term, “disability” in regards to employment, transportation and access to services. Under the amendment, the term “disability” – with respect to an individual – is defined as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
  • A record of such an impairment;
  • Being regarded as having such an impairment

This broader definition has allowed individuals with disabilities to more readily seek protection under the terms of the ADA.

Kim Kennedy is the director of the Office for Students with Disabilities, Edinboro University.

Posted in: News

Tagged with: Disability, Regulations

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