Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 protect
individuals with disabilities from discrimination.
The ADA extended the protections under Section 504
to cover private institutions of higher education as
well as those receiving federal funding. Colleges and
universities have experienced increased enforcement
of the law with the passage of the ADA due to more
awareness of people with disabilities regarding their
rights to equal access to programs and services. However,
Section 504 contains more specific information
about compliance issues in post-secondary education
than the ADA.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states
that ... “No otherwise qualified individual with a
disability in the United States ... shall, solely by reason
of ... disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded
from participation in, or be subjected to discrimination
under any program or activity receiving federal
Under the provisions of Section 504 the university
may not discriminate in the recruitment, admission,
educational process or treatment of students.
Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of their disability, and requested
reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive
approved modification of programs, appropriate
academic adjustments or auxiliary aids that enable
them to participate in and benefit from all educational
programs and activities.
A college or university may not:
• Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted
• Make pre-admission inquiries as to whether or not
an applicant has a disability
• Use admission tests or criteria that inadequately
measure the academic level of students with visual,
hearing or other disabilities because provisions were
not made for them
• Exclude a student with a disability from any course
of study solely on the basis of his or her disability
• Counsel students with disabilities toward a more
restrictive career than students without disabilities,
unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or
certification requirements in the profession
• Measure student achievement using modes that
adversely discriminate against students with
• Institute prohibitive rules that may adversely affect
the performance of student with disabilities
2. What is a disability?
An individual with a disability is defined as any
• “has a physical or mental impairment which
substantially limits one or more major life
activities (including walking, seeing, hearing,
speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for
oneself, or performing manual tasks)
• Has a record of such an impairment, or
• Is regarded as having such an impairment.”
3. What is meant by "is regarded as having such as impairment" in the definition of a disability?
For example, a person with a facial disfigurement may
not have an impairment that substantially limits one
or more major life activities, but others may regard
him or her as having one because of appearance.
4. What is the difference between a “disability” and a “handicap?”
A “disability” is a condition caused by accident, trauma, genetics or disease that may limit a person’s mobility, hearing, vision, speech, or mental function. A person may have more than one disability.
A “handicap” is a physical or attitudinal constraint imposed upon a person; for example, stairs, narrow doorways, and curbs are handicaps imposed upon people with disabilities who use wheelchairs.
5. What is a reasonable accommodation?
A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, job, activity, or facility that enables a qualified individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to attain the same level of performance or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges as are available to an individual without a disability. Some common academic accommodations include extended time on tests, use of peer note-takers, use of computer with spellchecker, and provision of sign language interpreters.
6. How does a student become eligible to receive accommodations?
To become eligible, a student must have a documented
disability and inform the university that he or she is
requesting accommodations based on that disability.
A student must:
• Contact DSS to schedule an intake meeting.
• Provide DSS with current documentation of the
disability from a qualified professional.
• Consult with a DSS specialist to determine
• Provide instructors with a memo prepared by DSS
identifying the student as having a disability and
specifying the authorized accommodations.
7. Who determines the accommodation?
DSS specialists determine the accommodations using:
• Documentation of the disability from a qualified
professional provided by the student
• Information gathered from a diagnostic student
• Information from appropriate university personnel
regarding essential standards for courses, programs,
services, activities and facilities, as needed.
The determination of reasonable accommodations
considers the following:
• Classroom or physical barriers
• The array of accommodations that might remove
• Whether or not the student has access to the course,
program, service, job, activity or facility without
• Whether essential elements of the course, program,
service, job, activity or facility are not compromised
by the accommodations
8. Won’t providing accommodations on examinations give an unfair advantage to a student with a disability?
“Accommodations don’t make things easier, just possible;
in the same way eyeglasses do not improve the
strength of the eyes, they just make it possible for the
individual to see better. Accommodations are interventions
that allow the learner to indicate what they
know. Without the accommodations, the learner may
not be able to overcome certain barriers.” (Samuels,
M. 1992 - Asking the Right Questions. The Learning
Accommodations are designed to lessen the
effects of the disability and are required to provide
fair and accurate testing to measure knowledge or
expertise in the subject. Careful consideration must be
given to requests for accommodations when the test
is measuring a skill, particularly if that skill is an essential
function or requirement of passing the course,
such as typing at a certain speed or turning a patient
for an X-ray. In such cases, please contact DSS staff
9. What do I do when a student discloses a disability?
Ask for the instructor’s memo documenting the
student’s disability provided by DSS. This memo
describes the accommodations that instructors are
legally mandated to provide. During office hours or
at another convenient time, discuss the memo and
the accommodations with the student. Students must
present a memo from DSS to receive accommodations.
If the student does not have a memo, he or
she should be referred to the DSS office to request
services. DSS staff will determine the appropriate accommodations
after reviewing documentation of the
disability provided by the student.
Discuss any questions about approved accommodations first with the student, then, if needed, with a DSS staff member.
10. What if a student doesn’t tell me about a disability until late in the term?
Students have a responsibility to give instructors and
DSS adequate time to arrange ccommodations. DSS
staff encourages students to identify themselves as
having a disability early in the term. instructors can
help by announcing in class and in the syllabus an
invitation for students to identify themselves early
in the term: “Any student who may need an accommodation
due to a disability, please make an appointment
to see me during my office hours. A memo from
Disability Support Services authorizing your accommodations
will be needed.”
Once a student has been identified as having a disability
to the instructor and requests accommodations
authorized by DSS, the university has a legal responsibility
to make reasonable attempts to accommodate
the need, even late in the term. There is no responsibility
to provide accommodations prior to identification;
for example, allowing the student to retake
exams with extended time.
Instructors should feel free to contact the DSS
staff for assistance on arrangements for last-minute
11. Can I review the student’s documentation of the disability?
DSS is the office designated to receive and interpret
documentation of the disability. DSS staff approve
eligibility for services and determine accommodations.
Disability information is confidential and
students are not required to disclose this information
12. What if I suspect that a student has a disability?
Talk with the student about your concerns regarding
his or her performance. If the concern seems disability-
related, ask if he or she has ever received assistance
for a disability. If it seems appropriate, refer the student
to the DSS office to apply for services. Whether
the student identifies him or herself to DSS is the decision
of the student; however, to receive accommodations,
disclosure to DSS with proper documentation
If the student has never been evaluated for a learning
disability or an attention deficit disorder, DSS will
provide a referral list of local resources where the
student may be tested. Some of the resources offer a
sliding fee scale.
13. What if a student with a disability is failing?
Treat the student as you would any student who is
not performing well in your class. Invite the student
to come in during your office hours to discuss reasons
for the failing performance and what resources the
student may use to improve. Encourage the student
to see a DSS specialist to discuss some additional
strategies to improve his or her grades. Contact DSS
to discuss any additional concerns regarding the
14. What if a student with a disability is often absent?
Talk with the student to discuss your concerns that
absences are affecting class performance. Students
with disabilities are expected to comply with class
attendance policies. However, there are times when
students are approved to have instructors relax class
attendance policies for disability-related absences.
If so, this will be documented in the student’s DSS
memo with specific information for instructors. If
the student is missing too much class, the instructor
should contact DSS and refer the student.
15. What is a note-taker and how can I assist a student with getting notes?
A note-taker is usually another student in class who
agrees to provide copies of lecture notes taken
during class. The student’s DSS memo will document
the need for a note-taker and provide specific
information for instructors on how to recruit one.
Instructors should always introduce the student with
a disability to the note-taker privately to maintain
confidentiality. DSS will provide the note-taker with a
copy card and stipend.
16. If a student needs a "reduced distraction testing environment," is a classroom with other students quiet enough?
Talk with the student regarding his or her needs.
Students with ADHD, for example, are easily distracted
and many do need an environment quieter than the typical
classroom. The Testing Services Center has reduced-distraction
testing spaces, or if the instructor and student agree,
they can work together to find a suitable location. That
location should not be in a hallway or in an office with a
phone ringing or other interruptions. It is also not appropriate
to move the student from one location to another
during the test, as the move itself becomes a distraction.
17. Who is responsible for requesting an interpreter for a student who is deaf or hard of hearing?
Students requiring an interpreter for class are responsible
for making the request to DSS well in advance of the
beginning of the classes, preferably four weeks before the
first day of class. For outside class activities, such as field
trips and meetings with the instructor during office hours,
students should request the interpreter from DSS as early
as possible, at least two weeks ahead of time, depending
on the event.
18. Do I need to alter my teaching style with an interpreter present?
Interpreters are professionals who facilitate communication
between hearing individuals and people who are deaf
or hard of hearing. The role of the interpreter is similar to
that of a foreign language translator: to bridge the communication
gap between two parties.
Some adaptations in presentation style may be helpful
when using a sign language interpreter. The interpreter will
let you know if you need to slow down your rate of speaking
or if they need you to repeat any information. A desk
copy of the textbook is especially helpful for the interpreter
when the class is using examples or doing exercises from
the text. It is important to note that when a student is
looking at the interpreter, he or she cannot be reading a
book, writing or taking notes; pausing for the student to
finish any of those tasks is appropriate before continuing
19. What can I expect if there is an interpreter in my classroom?
Interpreters are bound by the code of ethics
developed by the National Registry of Interpreters
for the Deaf, which specifies that interpreters are to
serve as communication intermediaries who are not
When an interpreter is present, speak directly to the
deaf or hard of hearing person rather than to the
interpreter, and avoid using phrases such as “tell him”
or “ask her.”
Speak normally, noting that there may be a lag time
between the spoken message and the interpretation.
When referring to objects or written information, allow
time for the translation to take place.
Replace terms such as “here” and “there” with more
specific terms, such as “on the second line” and “in
the left corner.”
In a conference room or class environment, the deaf
student and interpreter will work out seating arrangements,
with the interpreter usually located near the
Inform the interpreter in advance if there is an audiovisual
element in a presentation, so arrangements can
be made for lighting and positioning.
In sessions that extend longer than one hour, the
interpreter may require a short break to maintain
proficiency in interpreting.
20. What if a student with a disability is disruptive or otherwise behaving inappropriately?
The Code of Student Conduct regarding disruptive
behavior applies to all students. Clearly state behavioral
expectations for all students; discuss them openly
in your classroom, on your syllabus, and with individual
students as needed. If you need assistance or
guidance regarding a student with a disability, contact
the DSS office.
21. What should I do if my class needs to evacuate the building due to an emergency?
Students should let you know at the beginning of the
term if they will need assistance during an emergency.
Students who are blind or have low vision may need a
“buddy” to assist them in exiting the building.
Students who use wheelchairs should NOT use the
elevator but should wait for police or fire personnel to
safely assist them to exit the building. To prevent injuries,
instructors or other untrained personnel should
NOT attempt to evacuate a student who uses a wheelchair.
Please wait for trained emergency personnel.
22. What if a student has a seizure in my class?
DSS encourages students with seizure disorders to
inform their instructors about what should be done
if a seizure occurs during class time. Some students
may request that the campus police who are trained
to provide emergency assistance be called; others may
request action as listed below.
Seizures happen when there is a sudden electrical
discharge in the brain. Each individual has a unique
reaction. A seizure can result in a relatively slight
reaction, such as a short lapse in attention, or a more
severe reaction known as a grand mal, which involves
convulsions. Seizure disorders are generally controlled
by medication, so the possibility of a seizure in the
classroom is rare.
If one does occur, the following actions are suggested:
• Keep calm. Ease the student to the floor and
open the collar of the shirt. You cannot stop a
seizure. Let it run its course and do not try to
revive the student.
• Remove hard, sharp or hot objects that may
injure the student, but do not interfere with his
or her movements.
• Do not force anything between the student’s teeth.
• Turn the student’s head to one side for release of
saliva. Place something soft under the head.
• Make sure that breathing is unobstructed, but
do not be concerned if breathing is irregular.
• When the student regains consciousness, let him
or her rest as long as desired.
• To help orient the student to time and space,
suggest where he or she is and what happened.
• Speak reassuringly to the student, especially as
the seizure ends. The student may be agitated or
confused for several minutes afterwards.
• Don’t leave the student alone until he or she is
clearheaded. Ask whether you can call a friend
or relative to help get him or her home.
• If the seizure lasts beyond a few minutes, or if the
student seems to pass from one seizure to another
without regaining consciousness, contact the campus
police. This rarely happens, but when it does,
it should be treated immediately.