Laws that Affect Students with Disabilities

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first "civil rights" legislation to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. This law applied to programs conducted by federal agencies, those receiving federal funds, such as college participation in federal student loan programs, federal employment, and employment practices of businesses with federal contracts.

The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same as those used in Title I or the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act provides for "reasonable accommodations" for qualified individuals and requires that these persons not be excluded from, denied access to, or subjected to discrimination under any program. Agencies that provide financial assistance are governed by regulations covering all entities that receive federal aid. In addition to reasonable accommodations, Section 504 requires access to participation in all programs, facilitates communication for people with hearing or vision disabilities, and provides accessible construction and alterations in facilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is the civil rights guarantee for persons with disabilities in the United States. It provides protection from discrimination for individuals on the basis of disability. The ADA extends civil rights protections for people with disabilities to employment in the public and private sectors, transportation, public accommodations, services provided by state and local governments, and telecommunication relay services. A "person with a disability" is anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. In addition to those people who have visible disabilities -- persons who are blind, deaf, or use a wheelchair -- the definition includes people with a whole range of invisible disabilities.

These include psychological problems, learning disabilities, or some chronic health impairment such as epilepsy, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, cardiac problems, HIV/AIDS, and more. A person is considered to be a person with a disability if he or she has a disability, has a record or a disability, or is regarded as having a disability. Determining reasonable accommodations for a person with a disability generally requires assessment and documentation by a qualified professional.