Disability Law and Definitions

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was enacted, describing the rights of individuals with disabilities to a fair and equal opportunity for education. It was Section 504 of this document which directly affected higher educational institutions, by saying: "No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States shall, solely on the basis of disability, be denied access to, or the benefit of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity provided by any institution receiving federal financial assistance."

Americans with Disabilities Act

In 1990, the ADA expanded on the rights of individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Title II of the ADA dealt with higher education and offered more comprehensive, detailed information on precisely what kinds of accommodation must be provided by a university and under what circumstances.

The law prohibits discrimination solely on the basis of handicap for otherwise qualified persons in admissions and recruitment, treatment of students after admission, academic requirements, housing, financial, employment assistance for students, and nonacademic services such as physical education, counseling and placement services and social organizations.

When providing accommodations, colleges are not required to lower or effect substantial modifications to essential requirements. For example, although a school may be required to provide extended testing time, it is not required to change the substantive content of the test. In addition, a postsecondary school does not have to make modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of a service, program or activity or would result in undue financial or administrative burdens. Finally, a postsecondary school does not have to provide personal attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.

The ADA Amendments Act

This law, created in 2008, clarifies, expands and defines terms in the original ADA.


A person with a disability is someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. A person is considered to be a person with a disability if he/she has the disability, has a record of the disability, or is regarded as having the disability.

The term substantially limits refers to significant restrictions as to the condition, manner or duration under which an individual can perform a particular major life activity compared to most people. Whether a condition is substantially limiting to support an accommodation request is a decision made by qualified professional(s) based upon multiple sources of information.

An otherwise qualified person with a disability is a person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the educational program or activity.

A clinical diagnosis does not automatically mean that there is a disability. It is the interaction of the impact of the diagnosis and the demands of the environment that create a disability. The specific symptoms that are present should be stated in the documentation. Evidence that these symptoms are associated with substantial impairment in a major life activity is required for us to provide accommodations. A detailed description of current substantial limitation in the academic environment is essential to identify appropriate academic accommodations and services. Specific requests for accommodations need to be linked to the student's current functional limitations, and the rationale for each recommendation clearly stated.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act

FERPA is a federal law designed to protect the privacy of educational records and to establish the right of students to inspect and review their educational records. Records maintained at SSU for the purpose of coordinating services for students with disabilities, including any medical or clinical records may be disclosed to other school officials with a legitimate educational interest. For example, the provision of accommodations is not limited to the Office of Counseling and Disability Services, but rather a joint effort between the student, faculty and staff. Therefore, in the course of providing services, it may become necessary for disability-related information to be shared with other university personnel properly involved in evaluating and responding to requests for accommodations (i.e.Professor, Dean, Chair). The staff of Counseling and Disability Services will make every effort to limit disclosure of information to student's identity, functional limitations, and explanation of recommended accommodations. When you leave SSU, there is no indication or your transcripts or diploma that you received accommodations for a disability.