Higher Education's Obligations Under Section 504 And The American with Disabilities Act

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Title II”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (“Section 504”) prohibit colleges, universities, and postsecondary education institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of their disabilities. While Title II’s reach extends only to State and local government activities, which includes public colleges, universities, and graduate schools, section 504 covers all programs receiving Federal financial assistance, which may include some private schools.

An instructor may not forbid a student’s use of an auxiliary aid if that prohibition limits the student’s ability to participate in a school’s program. Section 504 states that a postsecondary school must take necessary steps to ensure that disable students are not denied the benefit of, excluded from participation in, or subjected to discrimination under the education program because of the absence of educational auxiliary aids. Title II takes it even further, stating that a public entity must furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services to provide disabled individuals with an equal opportunity to participate in a school program.

Auxiliary Aids and Services

In order to obtain necessary auxiliary aids, postsecondary students with disabilities must identify his or her need for an auxiliary aid by giving adequate notice to the institution of the need. Depending on the nature and scope of the request, the student’s notification should be provided to the appropriate Section 504 or Title II representative, or the appropriate dean, faculty advisor, or professor.

In response to a request for auxiliary aids, a postsecondary institution may make reasonable requests that the student provide supporting diagnostic test results and professional prescriptions for the auxiliary aids. An institution may also obtain a professional determination of whether requested auxiliary aids are necessary.

There are several various types of auxiliary aids and services available depending on the student’s disability. Some of these aids and services include:

  • Taped texts
  • Voice synthesizers
  • Note takers
  • Assistance in filling out interpreters forms
  • Readers
  • Specialized gym
  • Video-text displays equipment
  • Television enlargers
  • Calculators or keyboards
  • Talking calculators with large buttons
  • Electronic readers
  • Reaching device for Braille calculators, library use printers, or typewriters
  • Raised-line drawing kits
  • Telephone handset
  • Assistive listening devices amplifiers
  • Assistive listening systems - closed caption decoders
  • Telecommunications devices
  • Open and closed captioning for deaf persons

Institutions that must comply with either Section 504 or Title II are responsible for the cost of effective auxiliary aids for students with disabilities. If an aid is necessary for classroom or other appropriate use, the institution must make it available, unless provision of the aid causes undue burden.

Effectiveness of Auxiliary Aids

Auxiliary aids and services are only effective if they equalize the opportunity for a disabled student to participate in the school program. In determining the effectiveness of an auxiliary aid or service, the institution must analyze the appropriateness of an aid or service in its specific context. For example, the type of assistance needed in a classroom by a student who is hearing-impaired may vary, depending upon whether the format is a large lecture hall or a seminar.

Since not all students with a similar disability benefit equally from an identical auxiliary aid or service, supplying effective auxiliary aids can become a complex issue. Both Section 504 and Title II of the ADA establish specific references to effectiveness to help guide these intuitions. In short, the auxiliary aids or services provided by the institution must be equally effective as those furnished to other similarly qualifying disabled students so that it provides every student with similar disability with an equal opportunity to achieve the same results, benefits, or achievements.

Personal Aids and Services

Personal aids and services, including help in bathing, dressing, or other personal care, are not required to be provided by postsecondary institutions under either Section 504 or Title II. Personal attendants and individually prescribed devices are the responsibility of the student who has a disability and not of the institution.

Discover more information on Findlaw about the rights of disable students access to auxiliary aids and services under Section 504 and Title II and how to file an education discrimination complaint with the government if this right has been violated.