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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Americans with Disibilities Act ⁄ Rehab Act 1973

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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is generally regarded as the first national "civil rights" legislation for people with disabilities.

Section 504 is a program access statue. It requires that no otherwise qualified person with a disability be denied access to, the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any institution or entity receiving federal financial assistance. (It is this mandate that has promoted the development of disability support service programs in colleges and universities over the last 20 years).

Subpart E of Section 504 deals specifically with institutions of higher education. It requires that an institution (public or private) be prepared to make appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices in order to allow the full participation of students with disabilities in the same programs and activities available to non-disabled students.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 reinforced the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act by requiring that all public facilities, services, and communication be accessible to persons with disabilities and that auxiliary aids and services be provided unless an undue burden would result. The following material will focus on ensuring that the University does not discriminate in their programs and services.

Who is Protected?

Qualified individuals with disabilities are protected under the ADA. The definition contains two parts. First, the person must be an individual with a disability as defined under the ADA; second, that person must also be qualified.

An individual with a disability is defined as someone who has, had, or is treated as having, an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. For instance, a person who uses a wheelchair may have an impairment, such as a spinal cord injury, that substantially limits a major life activity such as walking or working. Individuals who have survived cancer are protected under the second part of the definition because there is a record of an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. That record of an impairment cannot be used against the individual.

Finally, someone is considered to be an individual with a disability even if they do not now have and have never had an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, so long as they are treated as they have one. For instance, a student may be a slow speaker. If a faculty member assumes that the slow speech indicates the student has a mental impairment and treats that student differently, the slow speech indicates the student may fall within this definition. This is so because the person is being treated as if he or she has an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.

Persons who are associated with disabilities are also protected under the ADA. For instance, the University cannot refuse to accept a student who meets the eligibility requirements for admission just because the student's spouse or sibling is diagnosed with AIDS. Not considered an individual with a disability is a person who is an illegal substance abuser. People who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual are also not considered individuals with disabilities under the ADA. Finally, if a limitation is not due to a physical or mental impairment, the individual would not be considered to have a disability. For instance, if someone cannot read because they have never been taught to read, they would not fall within the protections of the ADA.

Being a person with a disability, however, does not mean that one is automatically protected under the ADA. Persons with disabilities must also be qualified. In the academic context, to be qualified means that a person with a disability must meet all of the eligibility criteria to participate in the University's programs and services and perform at the standards required to stay in those programs. For instance, if a person with a disability does not have the GPA, ACT, or SAT scores to gain admittance and is not accepted, the University is not guilty discrimination on the basis of a disability because that person is not qualified. However, the University must provide persons with disabilities access to programs to enable them to meet the standards required to stay in a program of it will not cause an undue hardship as defined on a case-by-case basis.