Post-Secondary Institutions and the Law

Sheryl Burgstahler

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. According to these laws, no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his/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.

"Qualified," with respect to post-secondary educational services, means a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the education program or activity, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies or practices; the removal of architectural, communication or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services.

"Person with a disability" means any person who

  1. has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working),
  2. has a record of such an impairment, or
  3. is regarded as having such an impairment.

Examples of disabilities covered by legislation include AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, head injuries, learning disabilities, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, psychiatric disorders, speech and hearing impairments, spinal cord injuries, and vision impairments.

Much progress must still be made before all post-secondary programs are accessible to people with a variety of disabilities. Prospective students should keep access issues in mind as they select institutions for post-secondary study and, once enrolled, be prepared to be assertive in obtaining their entitlement to equal access when provisions are not already in place.