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Inclusion in the Classroom

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Some Issues Affecting College Teaching

Note: The major campus resource in this subject area is the Office of Disability Serivcesexternal link.

The ADA was instituted to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. When must academic accommodations be made? When is an accommodation request unreasonable, and how do you manage that situation?

What is a disability and who is protected by the ADA?

A disability as defined by the ADA is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

An individual with a disability as defined by the ADA:

  • 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 an impairment.

Those protected by the law at postsecondary institutions:

  • A "qualified individual with a disability," for purposes of employment, is a person with a disability who meets legitimate employment requirements and who can perform essential job functions with or without reasonable accommodations.
  • A "qualified individual with a disability," for purposes of access to academic and other programs, activities, and services of a public entity like MU, must meet essential eligibility requirements for receipt of the services, or for participation in the entity's programs, activities, or services, with or without:
    • reasonable modifications to a public entity's rules,policies, or practices;
    • removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or
    • provision of auxiliary aids and services

In the academic setting,"reasonable accommodations" are called "academic adjustments" and/or "auxiliary aids and services."

Covered entities are responsible for making academic adjustments and for providing auxiliary aids and services to otherwise qualified students with disabilities—for example, readers,interpreters, adaptive equipment for classroom use—if these are needed for equality of opportunity.

From Wynn v. Tufts Univ. School of Medicine, a 1991 federal appellate court decision widely viewed as persuasive:

"If the institution submits undisputed facts demonstrating that the relevant officials within the institution considered alternative means, their feasibility, cost and effect on the academic program, and came to a rationally justifiable conclusion that the available alternatives would result either in lowering academic standards or requiring substantial program alteration, the court could rule as a matter of law that the institution had met its duty of seeking reasonable accommodation."

Accommodation requests from students need not be met if:

  • the student is not qualified (i.e. does not meet essential eligibility requirements, either with or without a reasonable accommodation),
  • providing the accommodation would fundamentally alter the program,
  • the student is asking the institution to meet a personal need, or
  • the accommodation would involve an undue financial or administrative burden.

Laws Applying to Disability Accommodations in the Classroom

Title II of the ADA

Public entity shall not impose or apply eligibility criteria that screen out portend to screen out an individual with a disability or any class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any services, programs, or activity, unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity being offered.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA

No otherwise qualified person with advisability shall be denied a benefit or opportunity or be excluded from participation solely on the basis of that disability.

Individuals with disabilities are qualified if they meet the same eligibility requirements and standards of behavior and performance demanded of anyone else, with or without reasonable accommodation.

U. S. Department of Education regulations implementing Section 504

A qualified person with advisability, with respect to post secondary educational programs, is one who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the recipient's education program or activity.

Both academic and technical standards must be met by applicants. The term "technical standards"refers to all non-academic admissions criteria that are essential to participation in the program in question.

Programs may establish technical standards of performance, or eligibility criteria, even if physical tasks and/or levels of achievement will likely be impossible for some persons with disabilities the yare necessary to the demonstration of mastery, and if reasonable accommodations are provided as necessary.

The importance of an individualized inquiry

In Southeastern Community College v. Davis, a 1979 case interpreting Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, although the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled against the student, the Court first analyzed in detail the student's own skills and abilities, her specific needs as a student, various potential methods of providing accessibility for her; and the goals and purposes of the program.

Published by the ADA Coordinator, 404 Jesse Hall, Columbia, MO 65211 | PHONE 573-884-7278 | EMAIL
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Last Updated: June 20, 2016