NONDISCRIMINATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION – WHAT’S THE LAW?
by Kathy Hopkins, Director, Retention Services, and
Thomas Mays, Manager, Disability Support Services
Do you have a student(s) with a disability enrolled in your class or online course?
Do you know your rights as an instructor as well as the rights of students with disabilities when carrying out your responsibilities of providing accommodations?
If you answered ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ to either or both questions, then this article is for you. Each semester the college sees an increase in the number and variety of students who report or "self-identify" as having a disability. Some disabling conditions are obvious, while many more are not so obvious. Recent reports indicate that over 10 percent of all entering college freshmen have a disability. All students, however, must be treated equally and fairly. For example, if you have a blind or low-vision student in your class when you distribute handouts, the blind or low-vision student must get the handout in the format adjusted to that student’s disability at the same time the other students in the class receive their handouts. This practice will obviously require an extra step on your part, either contacting the Disability Services Office (DSS) to enlarge material or asking your department secretary to enlarge the material or enlarging the material yourself.
Many students with disabilities are recent graduates of special education programs, alternative schools, and high schools in the region. Many are new to an open admissions college and may struggle with the development of self-esteem, self-advocacy, and self-determination. Many are in a transition to shed negative stereotypes and labels that are so often connected to low performance and low achievement, such as "learning disabled," "emotionally disturbed," or "slow learner." Whatever the case, you as a faculty member need to know where the college stands and what legal role you will have to play in fostering their student development under the law. The entire college, not just one office or person, should be involved in the accommodation of students with disabilities.
WHAT IS THE LAW?
The following article, a "tipsheet" prepared by the Northeast Technical Assistance Center (NETAC), is intended to increase faculty awareness of the college’s legal and institutional responsibility in providing accommodations to students with disabilities under ADA and Section 504. It also provides specific information on how to engage students with disabilities in a postsecondary educational setting to reduce both attitudinal and academic barriers. Permission to use this article has been granted by the publisher, Northeast Technical Assistance Center.
When Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, it included Section 504 which forbade discrimination against persons with disabilities by programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance, which included virtually every institution of higher education, except the U.S. military academies and a few small religious schools. This was the first civil rights statute designed to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities and was patterned after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was patterned after Section 504. It, too, requires that students with disabilities may not be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any institution which is subject to the ADA. The ADA does not require that the institution receive federal financial assistance.
Who is protected?
How does this affect my college or university?
A college or university must also provide "auxiliary aids and services," such as qualified sign language interpreters, note takers, readers, Braille and large print materials, and adaptive equipment. A qualified interpreter is one who can communicate expressively and receptively, using any specialized vocabulary in a manner that is effective, accurate, and impartial. Institutions are not responsible for providing personal services such as attendants, hearing aids, glasses, etc., . . .
Under the applicable regulations, tutoring is a personal service. Therefore, it need not be provided unless the school provides tutoring to other students, in which case it must make that tutoring program accessible to students with disabilities. Institutions may not charge money for reasonable accommodations.
Colleges do not have to provide accommodations that would "fundamentally alter" the educational program or academic requirements which are essential to a program of study or to fulfill licensing requirements. The determination of what is a fundamental alteration, however, is one, which requires specific steps and a reasoned, determinative process on the part of the campus community. Remember, the ADA is a remedial statute, which requires that colleges and universities question their notions of what is truly fundamental, and provide for alternate methods of achieving the results intended by the educational program.
What is my Role as a Faculty Member?
Suggested Do's and Don'ts
Kathy Hopkins and Thomas Mays are committed to providing quality services to
students with disabilities at Prince George’s Community College. They can be
reached through DSS at (301) 322-0838. For more information on the above "tipsheet,"
please contact the Northeast Technical Assistance Center (NETAC)
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 2