Disability Legislation Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Click here for detailed Section 504 - US Department of Labor

Section 504  is a very brief law; however, detailed regulations regarding implementation can be found in 34 C.F.R. Part 104. The law states:" No otherwise qualified disabled* individual in the United States shall solely by reason of his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Since federal financial assistance includes veterans' education benefits and the Basic and Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, few, if any, universities are exempted from complying with Section 504.

According to this law, a ''disabled'' individual is a person who has a ''physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities and includes specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia. With regard to post secondary education students, ''qualified'' refers to a disabled person who meets the ''academic and technical standards'' required for admission or participation in an educational program or activity. Section 504 requires that faculty, administration, and staff be apprised of the following:
  1. No student can be excluded from any course, major, or program solely on the basis of a disability.
  2. Certain academic adjustments, commonly referred to as accommodations, are mandated especially in regard to the provision of alternative testing and evaluation methods for measuring student mastery, except when such an alteration would result in a modification to course objectives.
  3. Modifications, substitutions, or waivers of a course, major, or degree requirements are discussed in the regulations implementing Section 504 and may be necessary to meet the needs of some students with learning disabilities.
  4. Changes in time limits to complete a degree may have to be made.
  5. It is discriminatory to restrict the range of career options in counseling/advising students with disabilities as compared to non-disabled students with similar interests and abilities unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or certification requirements in a profession that may comprise an obstacle. In such cases, the counselor/advisor should inform the student of these requirements so he/she can assess them in light of the disability and make an informed decision.

*The term "handicapped" is no longer preferred.

Teaching Students with Disabilities: an Overview

Students bring a unique set of strengths and experiences to college, and students with disabilities are no exception. While many learn in different ways, their differences do not imply inferior capacities. There is no need to dilute curriculum or to reduce course requirements for students with disabilities. However, special accommodations may be needed, as well as modifications in the way information is presented and in methods of testing and evaluation. Faculty will be aided in these efforts by drawing upon the students' own prior learning experience, using available university and department resources, and collaborating with Disability Support Services.

Determining that a student has a disability may not always be a simple process. Visible disabilities are noticeable through casual observation- an immediately recognizable physical impairment or the use of a cane, service animal, wheelchair, or crutches. Hidden disabilities such as hearing impairments, legal blindness, cardiac conditions, learning disabilities, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and psychiatric or seizure disorders usually are not apparent. Multiple disabilities which are caused by such primary conditions as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis may have secondary impairments in mobility, vision, speech or coordination which may, in fact, pose greater difficulties.

Helpful Hints

  • Divide the responsibilities: Students with disabilities bear the primary responsibility for identifying their disabilities and making necessary adjustment to the environment. However, for test arrangements and the use of department resources, cooperation of the faculty member is vital.
  • Faculty-Student Relationships: Dialogue between the student and instructor is essential early in the term, and follow-up meetings are recommended. Faculty should not feel apprehensive about discussing the student's needs as they relate to the course. However, care should be taken to avoid generalizing a particular limitation to other aspects of a student's functioning. The student's own suggestions, based on experience with the disability and with school work, are invaluable in accommodating disabilities in college.
  • Attendance and promptness: The student using a wheelchair and other assistive devices may encounter obstacles or barriers in getting to class on time. Others may have periodic or irregular difficulties, either from their disability or from medication. Flexibility in applying attendance and promptness rules to such students would be helpful.
  • Classroom adjustments: A wide range of students with disabilities may be served in the classroom by making book lists available prior to the beginning of the term, by thoughtful seating arrangements, by speaking directly toward the class, and by writing key lecture points and assignments on the chalkboard and saying them aloud.
  • Functional problems: Sometimes unexpected manifestations of a disability occur such as chronic weakness and fatigue. Prescribed medication may cause drowsiness or impairments in memory or speed.
  • Note taking: Students who cannot take notes or have difficulty taking notes adequately will require note takers and/or tape recorders in class. When a note taker request is made by a student, faculty members can be of valuable assistance by writing the name and telephone number of the coordinator of Disability Support Services on the chalkboard and asking interested note takers in the class to contact the DSS office.
  • Testing and evaluation: Depending on the disability, the student may require the administration of examinations orally, the use of readers and/or scribes, extensions of time for the duration of exams, a modification of the test formats or, in some cases, make-up or take-home exams. For out of class assignments, the extension of deadlines may be justified. The objective of such considerations should always be to accommodate the student's learning differences, not to water down scholastic requirements. The same standards should be applied to students with disabilities as to all other students in evaluation and assigning grades.