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Understanding Your Rights To Equal Educational Opportunities As A Student With Disabilities

According to the National Council on Disability, students with disabilities are estimated to represent almost 10% of all college students nationwide. While there are Federal laws in place to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, attending classes on a traditional college campus can still be challenging. The issues of transportation and navigating campus independently can sometimes seem overwhelming, and these are just two challenges students with disabilities face.

Americans With Disabilities ACT (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (section 504) are important Federal laws passed by the U.S. Congress to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive a fair and equal opportunity to achieve the education of their choice. All colleges in the United States are required by law to make accommodations in various ways for students with disabilities under section 504 of the ADA. However, college students are responsible for proving their disability and requesting the specific accommodations they need. This can include a wide range of documentation such as medical test results, prescriptions, etc.

The Basic Premise Of The Law States:

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his 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 . . . .”

Section 504 Further States The Responsibility of the Institutions As Follows:

“A recipient . . . shall take such steps as are necessary to ensure that no handicapped student is denied the benefits of, excluded from participation in, or otherwise subjected to discrimination under the education program or activity operated by the recipient because of the absence of educational auxiliary aids for students with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills.”

The Title II regulation states:

“A public entity shall furnish appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, a service, program, or activity conducted by a public entity.”

Some examples of the types of assistive devices a college may be required to provide for students with disabilities include:

  • Taped Texts
  • Interpreters
  • Braille Calculators and Printers
  • Assistive Listening Devices
  • Telecommunications Devices for Deaf Persons
  • Electronic Readers
  • Reaching Devices for Libraries

Therefore, students with disabilities should discuss the types of accommodations available through the college they wish to attend, understanding that these rights are guaranteed by law. Colleges are required to make “reasonable” accommodations, but these can vary from school to school based on a number of variables. It is wise to make sure these accommodations are established up front before a student enrolls into any online or traditional college program.

Benefits Of The Online Classroom

With the rise in the number of available degrees online, many individuals with disabilities have found the answer to their dream of attending college to earn their degrees. It is important to know that online colleges are required to adhere to the same laws of accommodating individuals with disabilities as traditional colleges.

Students with disabilities find the online classroom a good fit to meet their educational needs for a number of reasons. The online classroom provides a high level of equality right from the start. Since all communication is done through a learning platform that includes discussion forums, chat forums and digital communication with classmates and instructors, it is likely that no one except the instructor will even be aware of a student’s disability. Instructors are notified ahead of time when a student needs particular accommodations to meet compliance with the ADA regulations.

Other Helpful Resources

Thanks to the work of many dedicated individuals over the years, things have improved tremendously for individuals with disabilities. There was a time when no special accommodations were made at all to provide equal opportunities for students with disabilities. Today individuals with disabilities have every right to attain their highest ambitions through learning on campus or through the convenience of online degree programs.

To find out more about the assistance available for students with disabilities, explore the resources listed below. All of these organizations strive to provide you with the information you need to continue your education and receive the help you need to reach your goals:

U.S. Department of Education

Association for Higher Education and Disability

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Home Page

National Council on Disability