Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Federal laws protect students and faculty with disabilities. It is illegal for a school to discriminate against students, staff, or faculty on the basis of disability.
But the legal terrain changes in college and in the work world.
Students are not guaranteed a “free appropriate public education” when it comes to higher education and the support that many receive in K-12 education is no longer available. In addition, college and university students will not necessarily be shielded from discipline because behavior manifests a disability or psychiatric condition.
Similarly, faculty or staff will not necessarily be shielded from termination.
It is well established that attending school qualifies as a major life activity protected under federal law from disability discrimination. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 guarantee your right to reasonable accommodations.
For the purposes of higher education, the rights granted by both laws are virtually identical. Colleges and universities must grant reasonable accommodations to people with disabilities so long as they are “otherwise capable” of meeting the requirements of their job or of the curriculum.
The good news is, that the laws’ coverage is broad. You do not have to have a “learning disability” to qualify for protections. You do not have to have a permanent impairment. There are no specific categories of disability that you must fit into in order to qualify for legal protection.
But you may need help navigating the school’s administration. You can secure your rights through the university’s disability services office. These offices go by many names: Office of Student Accessibility, Office of Accommodations, Student Services Office, and other names. Be aware, however, that what the disability service office grants and what a school may or may not do are often separate things.
In addition, you may have contract rights under university policies and procedures as well as constitutional rights at state universities that protect your right to accommodation for your disability.