ADA Information and Resources

For more than 43 million U.S. citizens with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) represents an unprecedented opportunity to eliminate the barriers to independence and productivity.

The ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Bill was originally drafted by the National Council on Disability and is supported by every major disability organization. The ADA was signed into law in July 1990.

What Is the Purpose of ADA?

The purpose of ADA is to extend to people with disabilities civil rights similar to those now available to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

What Does ADA Do?

It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in private sector employment, services rendered by state and local governments, places of public accommodation, transportation, telecommunications, and relay services.

Who Is Protected Under ADA?

Under the ADA, a person has a disability if they:

  • Have a substantial physical or mental impairment
  • Has a record of such impairment or they are regarded as having such an impairment even if they are not continuously impaired by their disability (e.g. random epileptic attacks)
  • And/or has a personal relationship with someone with a known disability

A substantial impairment is one that significantly limits or restricts a major life activity. It includes conditions controlled by medication such as epilepsy or depression or those mitigated by a prosthetic device. A major life activity includes: performing manual tasks, learning, walking, working, seeing, caring for oneself, hearing, breathing.

Information on Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act

“No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of…handicap, be excluded from participating in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

What Is Section 504?

A “handicapped person” means “any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person’s major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.” This includes persons with mental retardation; specific learning disabilities; psychiatric problems; traumatic head or spinal cord injuries; orthopedic handicaps; neurological impairments; chronic illness; drug or alcohol addiction (i.e., former users only); and visual, hearing, or speech impairments.

A “qualified handicapped person” is defined as one who meets the requisite academic and technical standards required for admission or participation in the postsecondary institution’s programs and activities. Section 504 protects the civil rights of individuals who are qualified to participate and who meet the definition of a “handicapped person” as defined above.

For college students with disabilities, academic adjustments may include adaptations in the way specific course material is presented, the use of auxiliary equipment and support staff, and modifications in academic requirements. A college or university has the flexibility to select the aid or service it provides, as long as it is effective. Such aids or services should be selected in consultation with the student who will use them.

Accommodations include such things as removing architectural barriers; providing readers, notetakers, and/or interpreters for classes and related course activities; providing alterations, substitutions, or waivers of courses or degree requirements on a case-by-case basis; altering length or times for exams, changing test formats, and/or allowing use of readers, scribes, etc.; and permitting the use of adaptive equipment or other technology to assist with test-taking and study skills.

ADA/Section 504 vs I.D.E.A.

When pursuing higher education, it is important for students and their advocates to understand their rights and responsibilities. Below is a comparison of three important laws for you to review.


A.D.A./Section 504

Type of Statute
Provides funding to states to ensure provision of free appropriate public education for children with disabilities Civil Rights statute protecting persons with disabilities from discrimination
Main Provisions
Establishes procedural safeguards and the right to free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment Because of a disability, a qualified person can’t be: excluded from participation in, denied benefits of or be subject to discrimination by any service, program or activity
Who is Protected
Children falling into the 13 categories listed in the IDEA and requiring special educational services to benefit from an education Any person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity
Extent of Obligation
Free appropriate public education ensuring a meaningful benefit from education Equivalent access to educational and extracurricular programs
Delivery Method
Individualized Education Plan (IEP) No formal plan. Worked out on a case-by-case basis with the institution’s Disabled Student Services Office
Services Available
  • Supplemental Aides and Services
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Speech and Language Therapy
  • Notetakers
  • Counseling
  • Tutoring
  • Resource Room
  • Paraprofessional Aides
  • Testing Modifications
  • Adaptive Equipment
  • Reasonable Accommodations and Academic Adjustments
  • Interpreters
  • Notetakers
  • Testing Modifications
  • Priority Registration
  • Real Time Reporting

Note: Counseling, tutoring and personal aides are NOT required by 504

Student’s Responsibility
Do one’s best
  • Disclose disability
  • Provide documentation
  • Facilitate the provision of reasonable accommodations
  • Show up to class
  • Use accommodations appropriately
  • Speak up if trouble arises
  • There is no statuary mechanism requiring parental involvement and such involvement is discouraged in college
Due Process: (1) impartial hearing; (2) state review (appeal); then (3) federal court Internal grievance procedure and/or complaint to the Office of Civil Rights and/or go directly to federal courts
Federal funds to states to support special education programs No funding attached. Costs are incurred by the institution
Administrative due process procedures as outlined in state education law Internal grievance or Office of Civil Rights
If it’s not on the IEP you won’t receive it
  • Accommodations must be reasonable
  • As circumstances warrant, accommodations may change over time
  • There is no “plan” to be set up and trial and error may be a necessary part of the process
  • Colleges are not required to “fundamentally alter” their programs or incur “undue hardship.”


Office of Disability Services