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Disability Law


Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation affecting millions of Americans with disabilities. For post secondary educational institutions, the law prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. Under the law, a disability is defined as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. Students with disabilities as defined by law must be assured equal access to facilities and services and equal opportunity to participate in programs and activities. Although the ADA was passed in 1990, universities have been required to provide educational opportunities to people with disabilities since the enactment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


Legal Requirements

The law requires universities to provide access to or equal opportunity to participate in programs, services and activities to eligible individuals with disabilities. The methods to achieve access or equal opportunity are called accommodations. Some examples of accommodations are: alternative means of communication, alternative means of testing, and assistive technology. Once reasonable accommodations are provided, students with disabilities are expected to meet the same academic and conduct standards as their peers without disabilities.


Universities and Noncompliance

When students with disabilities are denied an equal opportunity to participate in a university's programs, services, and/or activities, that university and/or specific individual may be held accountable. Students who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of their disability have three options. At Purdue University, students may file a grievance through the Office of the Dean of Students. However, a student with a complaint is not required to pursue this internal procedure. In place of or in addition to utilizing internal channels, students may elect to file a formal complaint through the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) or the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). If its investigation leads to a finding that the University has violated applicable law, the ICRC or the OCR has the authority to require corrective actions and/or to withhold federal funds from the University. Finally, a student with a complaint may file a civil action lawsuit in court, naming as respondents the University and/or specific individuals.


Definition of Disability

The law defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.

Physical or Mental Impairments Major Life Activities
Attention deficit disorder Breathing
Chronic medical conditions Caring for oneself
Learning disabilities Hearing
Neurological disorders Learning
Orthopedic impairments Seeing
Psychological disabilities Speaking
Sensory impairments Walking
Traumatic brain injury Working