Accessibility Resource Center

Higher Education, Disability, and the Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law enacted on July 26, 1990. It protects qualified persons with disabilities from discrimination in employment, government services and programs, transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. The ADA supplements and complements other federal and state laws that protect persons with disabilities, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  

CSU, Chico is considered a "public entity" under Title II of the ADA. According to Title II, the University must not exclude a "qualified individual with a disability" from participation in or deny the benefits of the services, programs or activities of the University or subject that person to discrimination by the University.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was the first law to specifically address the needs of students with disabilities. It states in part: “No otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities in the United States...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 receiving federal financial assistance.” Section 504 and subsequent amendments require that institutions of higher education provide students with disabilities the same opportunity to engage in educational experiences as non-disabled students. Students who voluntarily disclose (self identify) that they have a disability, provide documentation of that disability, and meet the eligibility requirements are entitled to receive approved accommodations (referred to as appropriate academic adjustments in Section 504), such as modifications of programs or auxiliary aids, in order to participate in programs and activities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a wide ranging legislation intended to make society more accessible to people with disabilities. It protects fundamental rights and extends equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to the areas of public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

Under the ADA, a person with a disability is defined as any person who:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. Has a record of such impairment; or
  3. Is regarded as having such an impairment.

The ADA also clarifies the Section 504 phrase “otherwise qualified” individual with a disability, as one either:

“With or without reasonable modification to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities.”

The ADA does not guarantee equal results, establish quotas, or require preferential treatment for persons with disabilities over those without disabilities.

Sections 504 of The Rehabilitation Act apply to colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance. The mandates of the ADA apply to all institutions of higher education, regardless of the receipt of federal funds.

In summary, these laws hold four very important implications for educators:


Students with disabilities have the right to be in higher education if they are otherwise qualified to be there. Once a student with a disability has met university entrance or admission criteria, with or without the use of accommodations, he or she has the same right as any other student to the educational experience. Just like any other student, those with disabilities are responsible for determining their own level of success.


Once they are enrolled, students with disabilities have the right to access all of the programs, academic and nonacademic, that are available to other students. Instructors cannot refuse to work with a student simply because they know he or she has a disability or because they are concerned that having a disability would prevent him or her from being successful. Furthermore, students with disabilities should be held to the same set of standards and criteria as students without disabilities.


Students with disabilities are eligible for some accommodations that relate to their disabilities. Instructors need to be prepared to make adaptations or reasonable accommodations to their procedures and practices so that students with disabilities are able to do the same things other college students are required to do. This may include altering or making changes in the delivery of lecture or course materials or in the assessment of knowledge to counter the effects of the disability.

Accommodations should:

  1. Level the playing field for students with disabilities.
  2. Be reasonable in relation to the course.

Accommodations should not:

  1. Water down curricula or compromise academic integrity.
  2. Substantially change any essential elements of the curriculum or academic program.
  3. Ensure that all students with disabilities are successful. Rather, students should be given the opportunity to determine their own level of success or failure.
  4. Consume extra personal time from the instructor to re-teach or tutor the student.


Students with disabilities have a right to confidentiality of all disability-related information. As a result, there may be times when faculty and instructors may receive a request for accommodation without being told who the accommodation is for. Other times, the student may approach their instructor and tell them that he has a disability that will require some accommodation.