Q&A on Disability Discrimination in Education Under Federal Law
Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors | Last reviewed December 20, 2022
Q: What federal laws cover disability discrimination in education?
A: The two main laws related to disability discrimination in education are Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Q: How do Section 504 and Title II differ?
A: The main difference between the two laws is that one applies to the recipients of grants from the federal government (Section 504) and the other applies only to public entities (Title II). A school or college may be both a recipient of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education and also a public entity. In such cases, the institution is covered by both laws.
Q: Are all school districts, colleges, and universities covered by these laws?
A: Virtually all public school districts are covered by Section 504 because they receive some federal financial assistance. Public colleges and universities generally receive federal financial assistance, and most private colleges and universities receive such assistance. Some private colleges do not receive any federal assistance, and Section 504 does not apply to them. Title II applies only to public institutions.
Q: Are all programs in a school or college covered if it receives federal financial assistance?
A: Generally, all programs in a school or college are covered if the school or college receives federal financial assistance or is a public entity.
Q: Do these laws cover just students?
A: No. The laws protect all participants in the program from discrimination, including parents, students, and employees.
Q: Do these laws cover just education programs?
A: No. They cover all programs of a school or college, including academics, extracurriculars, and athletics. Also, the laws apply to the activities of a school or college that occur off campus.
Q: Do all buildings have to be made physically accessible for people with disabilities?
A: No, not necessarily. While buildings constructed after the Section 504 regulation was issued (that is, those built since 1977) must be fully accessible, older buildings do not have to be made fully accessible. For older buildings, the law requires that the program or activity be made accessible. A common way this is done is to relocate the program to another building that is accessible.
Q: What types of adjustments are required for students with disabilities in colleges and universities?
A: Colleges and universities are required to provide students with appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary to afford an individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in the school's program. Examples of auxiliary aids that may be required are taped texts, notetakers, interpreters, readers, and specialized computer equipment.
Colleges and universities are not required to supply students with attendants, individually prescribed devices such as hearing aids and wheelchairs, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature
Q: What types of services are required for students with disabilities in elementary and secondary schools?
A: School districts must provide a free appropriate education to students with disabilities based on their individualized educational needs. The services may include individual education and related aids and services such as physical therapy, as well as modifications to the regular education program including adjustments in test-taking procedures and adjustments to rules regarding absences when a student's absences are due to a disability.
Q: Do federal laws prohibit harassment of students or others because of a disability?
A: Yes. Both Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act make it unlawful to harass people in covered entities because of their disabilities.
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