Federal Law Mandates for Students with Disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 prohibits all programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance from excluding or discriminating against individuals with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in those programs or activities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enacted in 1990, and amended in 2008, expanded coverage of Section 504 by providing a comprehensive plan for eliminating discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the public and private sector.

As a general matter, the Office of Educational Accessibility (OEA) facilitates the process of assisting students with disabilities on the West Chester University (WCU) campus. OEA determines whether a student is a "qualified individual with a disability," and recommends reasonable accommodations to assist the individual student. After those reasonable accommodations are determined by OEA, the student is given a Letter of Accommodation that identifies the accommodation(s) he/she is entitled to with the direction to give it to the professor(s) of each individual class. It is at that point where the implementation of those identified accommodations becomes the responsibility of the individual faculty member. It is important that you discuss the accommodations in a private setting with the student and come up with a plan to implement the identified accommodations. Communication with the student is important and if there are issues with the accommodations or plans, OEA is available as a tool to assist with the process.

Who is Protected?

These federal mandates are applicable to "qualified individuals with a disability". Section 504 and the ADA define this as any person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,
  • Has a record of such an impairment, or
  • Is regarded as having such impairment.

In higher education, a student has the affirmative duty to make the disability known to University administrators (OEA at WCU). The student is required to follow reasonable procedures to request and document the need for accommodations, which requires written documentation and confirmation of continued disability/impairment.

It is important to note that identification of a disability and application of reasonable accommodations are not retroactively applied, accommodations and the right to them apply only after the student documents a disability and need for accommodation.

Qualified Individual

It is important to note that the student must be "otherwise qualified."

A qualified person is someone who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the recipient's education program.

An "otherwise qualified" student is a student who is able to meet the academic standards and carry out essential requirements of the program with reasonable accommodations.

Covered Disability

Does the student have an impairment that rises to the level of a covered disability? That is, does the student have a recognized physical or mental impairment that limits at least one major life activity? Although the definition of disability is quite broad since the ADA amendments in 2008, a disability must be more than a temporary illness, condition, or a transitory impairment with an actual or expected duration of six months or less (i.e. flu, broken bone, use of ordinary eyeglasses/contacts).

If you would like more information about Section 504, the ADA, or faculty responsibilities, feel free to

contact the Office of Educational Accessibility

(223 Lawrence Center, 610-436-2564) or access the OEA website.

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