Disability Legal Issues
Section 504 and the ADA Laws affecting the University of Richmond's obligations to individuals with disabilities include the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
Under the Rehabilitation Act: No otherwise qualified individual...shall, solely by reason of his or her 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.... [29 U.S.C. Sec. 794; see also 34 C.F.R. Part 104 (Department of Education regulations).
Title III of the ADA imposes similar non-discrimination requirements on the university as a place of public accommodation [42 U.S.C., Sec. 12181 et seq.; see also 28 C.F.R Part 36, Department of Justice regulations].
An individual with a disability is defined as:
- A person who has a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits a major life activity (including caring for oneself, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, reproducing, breathing, sleeping, learning, thinking, concentrating, and working)
- A person who has a record of such an impairment (e.g., someone with a history of alcohol addiction who is in recovery and no longer drinking, but is discriminated against because of that past history)
- A person who is regarded as having such an impairment (e.g., someone with a disfiguring scar who is discriminated against in the way others respond to her/his appearance) By definition, "disability" does not include: current use of illegal drugs, compulsive gambling, kleptomania, pyromania, transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders. Important provisions of ADA and Section 504 regulations include the following:
Preadmission inquiries about whether or not an applicant is disabled are prohibited.
Rules and policies cannot discriminate against students with disabilities.
A qualified person with a disability may not be excluded from university activities, services, or academic programs
"Qualified" individuals include:
- Students who meet the qualifications for entry into the particular school or program (with or without reasonable accommodations) • Parents or members of the public who have a disability, and are attending a function at the university (e.g., admission, graduation, or athletic events, performances, other functions open to members of the public)
- Individuals who pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others can be excluded from participation.
- If a student desires accommodation of a disability, it is the student's responsibility to inform the college or school of the disability, and to provide appropriate documentation.
- The university is responsible for providing reasonable accommodations in order to afford the student an equal opportunity to participate in the university’s activities, services, and programs.
Reasonable accommodations may include such adjustments as:
- Relocating a class from an inaccessible to an accessible location
- Permission to audiotape class lectures
- Allowing a student who uses a guide dog to keep the guide dog on campus
- Providing printed materials/media in accessible formats (e.g., in Braille, on audiotape, or in large print)
- Making sure that internships, externships, placements, field trips, research projects, and other university-sponsored programs are accessible to students with disabilities
- Equipping computer labs with disability-accessible software and hardware (e.g., text-to-speech, speech-to-text, screen enlargers, screen reader software, adaptive keyboards)
- Making Web sites accessible
Reasonable accommodations need to be determined on a case-by-case basis, rather than applying a "cookie cutter" approach based on category of disability.
Academic requirements that are essential to a program are not discriminatory, and do not need to be modified. A student must be qualified to perform the essential requirements of an academic program "in spite of" a disability. The burden is on the university to show that a given requirement is essential. 10. Nonessential academic requirements may need to be modified to ensure that they do not discriminate against students with disabilities.
Exams and evaluations must be done in a way that best ensures the results reflect the student's achievement rather than his/her disability.
For example, certain students with disabilities may need one or more of the following:
- Additional time on tests
- Permission to take tests in a distraction-reduced setting
- Use of a computer during exams
- A reader for exam questions (or an audiotape of the exam questions)
Note: This is not an exhaustive list. Other testing accommodations may be reasonable and necessary.
The institution may be required to provide needed auxiliary aids (e.g., access to taped textbooks, interpreters), but is not required to provide services of a personal nature (e.g., a personal attendant). Accommodations that "fundamentally alter" a program or create an "undue hardship" on the university do not have to be made.
Surcharges to cover the cost of disability accommodations cannot be imposed solely on students with disabilities. (However, such costs could be assessed to the entire student body.) 14. Students with disabilities have the right to participate in the most integrated settings possible.
Students have the right to refuse accommodation (e.g., they do not have to use the accommodations which have been approved for them).
Students with disabilities may not be counseled toward more restrictive career options. Students can be informed of the requirements of a given career, and the difficulties they may encounter, but cannot be counseled away from an area of interest simply because of their disability.
The university is responsible for ensuring that services provided by outside contractors are not discriminatory.
It is unlawful to retaliate against, coerce, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with persons in the exercise of their rights under the ADA, or persons who aid or encourage others to exercise such rights.
Adapted from: Jarrow, J. (1992). The ADA’s impact on postsecondary education. Columbus, OH: AHEAD. Thompson Publishing Group. (1999). ADA Compliance Guide. Washington, D.C.