Reasonable Accommodations

The Law

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) require equal access to a college education for individuals with a disability. “It is the policy of North Dakota State University to provide an accessible campus, both in terms of the physical plant and programs. 
The College will comply with all requirement set forth Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, along with the Amendments Act of 2008, which was signed into law on September 25, 2008 and became effective January 1, 2009, prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states: “[n]o otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States... shall, solely on the basis of disability, be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity provided by any institution receiving federal financial assistance” ... 
An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as “. . . a person who has a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such impairment.” 
The term “qualified,” in post-secondary education, means that the student meets the academic and technical standards required for participation in the class, program, or activity but has a physical and/or mental impairment that limits one or more major life activity, including, but not limited to, caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, and working. Major life activities may also include school- related tasks such as learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. Major life activities also include the operation of “major bodily functions,” including, but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law 93‐112 and subsequent regulations) has several sections which deal specifically with academic accommodations. The Act states that “No otherwise qualifies individual with a disability in the United State 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.” “Program or activity” is defined as “a college, university, or other post‐secondary institution, or a public system of higher education.” 
The regulations further require that other “aids or adaptations which may be necessary to provide equality of access may not be prohibited from the classroom.” Course examinations or other evaluations must be provided by methods or in formats which will best ensure that the results of the evaluation represent the student’s achievement in the course, rather than reflecting the impairment. 
Finally, the regulations require that “auxiliary aids or adaptations must be provided to ensure participation of students with impaired sensory, manual or speaking skill in the classroom instruction or to ensure that such students are able to benefit from the instruction.” These may include audio textbooks, readers, interpreters, note‐takers, typewritten transcripts, adapted equipment, or other effective methods of making classroom presentations accessible to the student. The institution has flexibility in choosing the methods by which the aids will be supplied and can opt to use resources already available through state vocational rehabilitation agencies, private charitable organizations, textbook audio services, etc. Within the classroom, partnering the student with a classmate for lab situations and using volunteer note‐takers, etc., are legitimate methods of making accommodations. It is not necessary to provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature. 


The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a civil rights act enlarging the scope of Section 504. The ADA extends civil rights protection for people with disabilities to employment in the public and private sectors, transportation, public accommodations, services provided by state and local government, and telecommunication relay services. Regulations regarding public colleges and universities are discussed in Title II (Private institutions are covered in Title III). This focus includes the whole scope of the institution’s activities, including employment, facilities, and programs. 
A “person with a disability” is defined as anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as caring for one’s self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. In addition to these people who have visible disabilities—person who and blind, deaf, or use a wheelchair—the definition includes people with a whole range of invisible health impairment, such as epilepsy, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, cardiac problems, HIV/AIDS, and more. (Documentation of the disability may be required.) A person is considered to be a person with a disability if he/she has a disability, has a record of a disability, or is regarded as having a disability.

Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations: 

  • Are any modification or adjustment that will allow a student with a disability to participate in a program or have the same rights and privileges as students without disabilities to benefit from all educational programs and activities. 
  • Make it possible for a student with disabilities to fully engage in the educational program and for an instructor to fairly evaluate the student’s understanding of the material without interference from the disability. 
  • Include specific recommendations of strategies, technology, or aids needed to accommodate the disabling condition without compromising the integrity of the academic program. 
  •  “Level the playing field” for students with disabilities without watering down curricula. Students have the right to fail or succeed. 

Thus, colleges and universities are required to make reasonable accommodations in their practices, policies, and procedures, and to provide auxiliary aids and services for persons with disabilities, unless to do so would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations they offer, or would result in an undue financial or administrative burden on the institution. ( 
Disability Services works closely with students to help them understand their rights and responsibilities. Some of those rights are covered by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99). 

Disability Services cannot discuss a specific student circumstances or record with anyone (including parents or guardians) without that student's express permission. 

Determination of services is provided on a case-by-case basis after a review of the documentation by the appropriate Disability Services specialist. Documentation is the report written by a qualified specialist (e.g., physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, audiologist, etc.) that describes the disability or condition and which may provide recommendations for accommodations and strategies. Students are encouraged to identify themselves to Disability Services. Students are also encouraged to identify themselves with the instructor, however some students choose to remain anonymous in order to maintain confidentiality, which is their right.
Reasonable accommodation is not intended to compromise academic standards. Students with disabilities must meet the same admissions and graduation requirements as all other students. Faculty members, whether in the role of advisor, instructor, or committee member, are encouraged to participate in discussions and/or ask questions about the accommodations process. A team approach to addressing student needs is often most effective. 

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