Disability Laws in Postsecondary Education
If you have a disability, you are entitled by law to equal access to college programs. There are two laws that
protect persons with disabilities in postsecondary education: The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 1990
Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Rehabilitation Act
Title V of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is generally regarded as the first civil rights legislation for people
with disabilities on the national level. Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act is a program access statute. It
prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity offered by an entity or institution
receiving federal funds.
Section 504 states (as amended):
No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely on the
basis of disability, be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination
under any program or activity provided by any institution receiving federal financial
Under Section 504, institutions were required to appoint and maintain at least one person to coordinate its
efforts to comply with the requirements of Section 504 (Section 504 Coordinator). This individual or office
has the ongoing responsibility of assuring that the institution/agency/organization practices nondiscrimination
on the basis of disability and should be included in any grievance procedures developed to address possible
instances of discrimination brought against the institution. At SOWELA Technical Community College
(SOWELA), the established office is the Disability Services (DS).
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA is a federal civil rights statute that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. There
are four sections in the law: employment, government, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The
ADA adds more protection for disabled persons to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The ADA is designed to
remove barriers that prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities that
are available to persons without disabilities.
Colleges and Universities are covered in many ways under the ADA. Employment is addressed by Title I,
accessibility provided by public and private entities Title II and III, and miscellaneous items are covered under
The ADA in Relation to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
Institutions that receive federal funds (such as the SOWELA Technical Community College) are covered
under Section 504. The ADA does not supplant Section 504, but in those situations where the ADA provides
greater protection, the ADA standards apply. Therefore, colleges and universities must adhere to both the
Rehabilitation Act and The Americans with Disabilities Act.
Definition of a Disability
Section 504 defines a person with a disability as a person:
• with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
• who has a record of the disability, OR
• who is regarded as having the disability.
Any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfiguration, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of
the following body systems: