The Laws: 504 and ADAAA

The Laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)/ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that …”No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall solely by reason of …disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from the participation in, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

A person with a disability includes  …”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, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks], (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded has having such an impairment.”

A “qualified person with a disability” is defined as one… “who meets the academic and technical standards as requisite to admission or participation in the educational program or activity.”

Section 504 protects the rights of qualified individuals who have disabilities such as, but not limited to:

  • Blindness/visual impairment
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness/hearing impairment
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Orthopedic/mobility impairment
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Speech and language disorder
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Tourett’s syndrome
  • Traumatic brain injury

Section 504 also protects students with chronic illnesses and “treatable disabilities”, such as, but not limited to:

  • AIDS
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Psychiatric disability

Under the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 … colleges may not discriminate in the recruitment, educational process, or treatment of students.  Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of disability, and requested reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive approved modifications of programs, appropriate academic adjustments, or auxiliary aids that enable them to participate in the benefit from all educational programs and activities.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities. Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in all programs, activities, and services of public entities. It applies to all State and local governments, their departments and agencies, and any other instrumentalities or special purpose districts of State or local governments.

  • Requires that people with disabilities not be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination.
  • Does not require the institution to receive federal financial assistance.
  • Provides clear enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities by ensuring the federal government plays a significant role.

ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)

On September 25, 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law.  It became effective on January 1, 2009. The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives both unanimously passed the ADAAA.

The ADAAA focuses on the discrimination at issue instead of the individual’s disability.  It makes important changes to the definition of the term “disability” by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) ADA regulations. The Act retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, it changes the way that the statutory terms should be interpreted. Most significantly, the ADAAA:

Directs EEOC to revise the portion of its regulations that defines the term “substantially limits”;

Expands the definition of “major life activities” by including two non-exhaustive lists:

  • The first list includes many activities that the EEOC has recognized (e.g., walking) as well as activities that EEOC has not specifically recognized (e.g., reading, bending, and communicating);
  • The second list includes major bodily functions (e.g., “functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, respiratory, neurological, brain, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions”);
  • States that mitigating measures other than “ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses” shall not be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability;
  • Clarifies that an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active;
  • Provides that an individual subjected to an action prohibited by the ADA (e.g., failure to hire) because of an actual or perceived impairment will meet the “regarded as” definition of disability, unless the impairment is transitory and minor;
  • Provides that individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation; and
  • Emphasizes that the definition of “disability” should be interpreted broadly.