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These definitions are taken from Title II Highlights and Title III Highlights, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 Compliance Handbook, and ADA Alliance.

The two federal laws governing institutions of higher education are The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and The Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

Provisions of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in

Title I — Employment
Title II — Public services and transportation (includes state universities)
Title III — Public accommodations related to goods, programs, and services (includes most private universities)

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act states: "No otherwise qualified disabled individual in the United States … shall, solely by reason of his 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..."

An individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a "physical or mental impairment" that substantially limits a "major life activity," or has a record of such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.

A physical impairment is defined as any physiological disorder, condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss which affects one or more of the following body systems: neurological, musculoskeletal, sense organs, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, genito-urinary, hemic and lymphatic, skin and endocrine. Examples:

  • AIDS
  • Cancer
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Hearing Impairments
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Heart Disease
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Speech Impairments
  • Visual Impairments

A mental impairment is defined as any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, as well as specific learning disabilities.

Substantially Limits is defined as an individual being unable to perform a major life activity or significantly restricted as to the condition, manner or duration under which s/he can perform a major life activity.

Major life activities include functions such as:

  • Breathing
  • Caring for self
  • Hearing
  • Learning
  • Performing manual tasks
  • Seeing
  • Speaking
  • Working
  • Walking

A qualified individual with a disability is one who meets the essential eligibility requirements for the program or activity offered by a public entity. The essential eligibility requirements will depend on the type of service or activity involved.

A qualified person with a disability in regard to education is defined as a person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the institution's programs and activities. Factors such as safety may be considered in determining whether a disabled person is qualified.

Reasonable accommodations are the adaptation of a program, facility, or work place that allows an individual with a disability to participate in the program or services or perform a job. Accommodations may consist of changes in policies, practices, services or location and the use of auxiliary aids. Accommodations must be made unless it can be demonstrated that the accommodations would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the program. A modification is not mandated if it would "fundamentally alter" the goods, services, or operations of the public accommodation.

Auxiliary aids will be provided when they are necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with hearing, vision, or speech impairments. Auxiliary aids include such services or devices as qualified interpreters, assistive listening headsets, television captioning and decoders, telecommunications devices for deaf persons, videotext displays, readers, alternate text format, brailled materials, and large print materials.

A disability is NOT: homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestitism, transsexuals, compulsive gambling, or substance abuse disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.

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