Rights and Responsibilities
Some consider ensuring equal access to postsecondary education simply the right thing to do. Others are merely responsive to legal mandates. In either case, the federal government has made it clear that postsecondary institutions must provide reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified students with disabilities to ensure access to educational opportunities. The Legal Issues section below provides more details on disability legislation and its impact on postsecondary institutions.
Each student with a disability has unique needs. The presence of a disability may or may not affect the participation of a student in your class. Disabilities that may interfere with access to or participation in essential postsecondary coursework include:
- low vision
- hearing impairments
- mobility impairments
- learning disabilities
- health impairments
- psychiatric impairments
Reasonable accommodations must be provided to eligible students with disabilities in order for them to access essential course content and essential learning activities. Types of academic coursework to which students with disabilities need access include lectures, written assignments, field or lab work, exams, class discussions, Internet research, and/or participation in class activities.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations in postsecondary settings include sign language interpreters, preferential seating, notetakers, scribes, flexible attendance requirements, test modifications, and classes in accessible locations. Some students with disabilities require the same accommodations for all courses. Other students may need a range of accommodations for various lecture, lab, discussion, and fieldwork activities. Flexibility and effective communication between students, disabled student services staff, and instructors are key to implementing successful accommodations.
It is important to remember that information about a student’s disability should usually be kept confidential. Even if a student has disclosed a disability to you as his instructor or to other officials of the institution, this personal information should not be shared with others without his permission. Typically, the process by which information about a disability is shared is as follows:
- The student brings documentation about the disability to the disabled student services office on campus. He discusses appropriate accommodations with staff.
- Confidentiality is maintained by the disabled student service office on campus unless the student provides written permission to release the information.
- If the student agrees that specific information can be disclosed to his instructor, the disabled student services staff shares information and approved accommodations; sometimes reasonable accommodations for specific class activities are determined in consultation with the instructor.
The best accommodations are tailored to the individual and often develop from a cooperative relationship between the faculty member, the student, and staff of the campus disabled student services office.
Which of the following students might need an accommodation in a social sciences lecture? Choose a response.
- A student with low vision who cannot see visual aids or overheads clearly.
- A student with a mobility impairment who cannot take notes.
- A student with a broken leg.
- A student with an undocumented learning disability.
Feedback on each response:
- A student with low vision may benefit from large print or electronic copies of your handouts, a notetaker, and/or preferential seating. It is also helpful to write clearly and in large print on overhead projectors and blackboards.
- This student might need accommodations for notetaking and test taking if his mobility impairment affects hand and finger use and written communication. Possible accommodations include a notetaker, scribe, computer, or audiotape.
- A student with a broken leg may need temporary accommodations. She may need extra time to arrive for class, campus transportation, and/or preferential seating.
- This student is not eligible for accommodations. Documentation of a disability by a qualified professional and registration with the disability student services office are required on most campuses in order for a student to be eligible for academic accommodations.
For more information on academic accommodations for specific disabilities or activities, see Accommodations .
Rights and Responsibilities
Faculty, students with disabilities, and Disability Support Services have rights and responsibilities related to reasonable modifications under the Americans with Disabilitites Act, the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Collaborative efforts among these parties ensure equal access.
Faculty is responsible to create and maintain an accessible learning environment, while at the same time maintaining academic standards. Faculty expects the student to initiate modification requests and provides reasonable modifications to ensure equal access. Faculty also refers students to Disability Suport Services when necessary and refrains from retaliation against individuals advocating for accessibility.
Students have the right to equal opportunities for education and participation in University activities. Students must meet or exceed the essential requirements of Eastern Washington University with or without modifications. Students initiate the request for modifications and/or services in a timely manner, communicate with faculty regarding modifications and work with disability services as needed.
Disability Support Services determines the students’ eligibility, coordinates and provides reasonable modifications. Disability Support Services responds in a timely manner to students who request modifications and services. Disability Support Services emphasizes collaborative partnership with faculty and other campus community members to assure that programs are accessible and usable by students with disabilities.
Student Confidentiality and Faculty’s Right
All documents which Disability Support Services collects are regarded with strict confidentiality. Disability Support Services does not reveal the condition or diagnosis of any student registered and/or verified with us. Faculty members have the right to know the following regarding students with disabilities:
- The student has a disability verified by Disability Services
- How the disability or condition limits the student
- Recommended reasonable modifications/academic adjustments that will make the student’s programs accessible
There must be a logical link between the functional limitations and the recommended modifications or adjustments.
No documents will be released to any internal or external individual, departments or agency without the written permission of the student or the student’s guardian. Instructors are cautioned against identifying students with disabilities unnecessarily to their peers or other colleagues without the student’s consent. Announcing, for example, at the beginning of an exam that all disabled students should come to the front of the class would violate the students’ right to confidentiality.
Assuring that individuals with disabilities can participate in higher education can be argued on ethical grounds. Some simply consider it to be the right thing to do. Others are more responsive to legal mandates. Postsecondary institutions and educators should be aware of the key legislative mandates that address disability-related issues in society.
This website does not provide legal advice; consult administrators or your campus for that. The following federal legislation will be reviewed in this section:
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was designed to ensure that any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of disability for otherwise qualified persons. A “person with a disability” is defined as any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.
Examples of disabilities that can impact a student in postsecondary education include, but are not limited to, AIDS, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, head injuries, hearing impairments, learning disabilities, loss of limbs, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, psychiatric disorders, speech impairments, spinal cord injuries, and vision impairments. Some of these conditions are visible, while other conditions, such as learning or psychiatric, are “invisible. ” Factors such as fatigue, pain, or medication side effects can also impact an individual’s ability to perform specific life and academic-related tasks. In all cases, postsecondary institutions have a responsibility to provide program access to qualified students with disabilities.
Any postsecondary program receiving federal financial assistance has been required to provide accommodations for qualified people with disabilities since this Act. Almost all postsecondary institutions must comply with Section 504, since almost all postsecondary institutions, even those that are private, receive federal funds of some type.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990, many provisions of Section 504 were extended to public and private companies who do not receive federal funding. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 requires that people with disabilities be provided equal access to public programs and services. According to this law, no otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities shall, solely by reason of their disabilities, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination in these programs. The ADA upholds and extends the standards set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to employment practices, communications, and all policies, procedures, and practices that impact the treatment of students with disabilities.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.” Making a service or program accessible is the responsibility of the service or program. For example, a student who uses a wheelchair and has grades, recommendations, and other qualifications for admission to medical school cannot be denied access to the program because the school does not have an elevator in one of the buildings. Access extends past the classroom to all programs and services made available to the public, such as athletic programs and extracurricular offerings.
Reasonable accommodations may include, but are not limited to, redesigning equipment, assigning aides, providing written communication in alternative formats, modifying tests, relocating services to accessible locations, and altering existing facilities. For example, a student who is blind might speak test answers into a tape recorder, or a scribe might write them down. An assistant could read the test questions out loud, or a screen reading device would make the print accessible through Braille or speech output. Reasonable accommodations do not include personal devices such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, and glasses.
When people think of the ADA they often think of elevators in buildings, reserved spaces in parking lots, and lifts on busses. However, the ADA accessibility requirements also apply to programs offered on the Internet. As the United States Department of Justice clarifies (“ADA Accessibility,” 1997), “Covered entities that use the Internet for communications regarding their programs, goods, or services must be prepared to offer those communications through accessible means as well.” At the postsecondary level, the content Web sites assigned to your students, and software needed for coursework must be accessible to students using assistive technology. For example, a blind student using a text-to-speech system must be assured access to the content of Web pages; this means that content presented in a graphical form must also be provided in text so his system can read it to him.
People who feel they have been discriminated against can approach the campus ADA compliance officer, file a complaint with the relevant federal agency, and/or file a lawsuit. For example, people with disabilities have filed complaints with the Office of Civil Rights and/or sued postsecondary programs because they were denied the opportunity to take a course, to participate in a co-op activity, or to submit an assignment in an alternative form. In some settlement agreements postsecondary institutions have agreed to a make a broad range of programs and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities, including academic programs, dining and living facilities, and social aspects of campus life. Professional testing programs have also been required by the Department of Justice to provide sign language interpreters, assistive listening devices, and alternative formats to students taking these exams as well as preparation courses for the examinations. Enforcement agencies encourage informal mediation and voluntary compliance.
Section 504 also specifies that universities may not limit the number of students with disabilities admitted or make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not an applicant has a disability. In addition, universities cannot use admission tests or other criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications of students with disabilities because special provisions to take the tests were not made, exclude a qualified student with a disability from any course of study, or establish rules and policies that may adversely affect students with disabilities.
To ensure that the federal government would not perpetuate the discrimination that the vocational rehabilitation system was designed to mitigate, Congress enacted civil rights protections for people with disabilities. On August 7, 1998, Congress amended Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (19 U.S.C. 794d) to expand the federal government’s responsibility to provide electronic and information technology which is accessible to, and usable by, people with disabilities. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act specifically covers federal agencies but has an impact on the greater public.
Section 508 requires federal departments or agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology, to ensure that the electronic and information technology is accessible. Section 508 requires that individuals with disabilities seeking information or services from a federal department or agency, have access to, and use of, information and data comparable to that provided to individuals without disabilities. For example, government Web sites must provide access for blind users who use speech output systems. If any video clips are used they must have captions and descriptions. Visual images should also be audio-described so that people who are blind or deaf have equal access.
In response to Section 508 the Access Board  has created accessibility standards  for information technology. Although developed for federal agencies they have been adopted by some postsecondary institutions to assure the accessibility of information technology procured, developed, or used on campus.
To sum up, federal legislation requires that we accept otherwise qualified students with disabilities into our academic programs. Additionally, we should work with students to identify and implement reasonable accommodations that will grant them access to educational opportunities. There are experienced staff on campus to assist instructors in understanding the effects of disabilities on the learn