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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends federal civil rights protection in several areas to people who are considered "disabled". Built upon a body of existing legislation, particularly the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Civil Right Act of 1964, the act states its purpose as providing "a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities." The ADA is not an affirmative action statute. Instead, it seeks to dispel stereotypes and assumptions about disabilities, and to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for disabled people. To achieve these objectives, the law prohibits covered entities from excluding people from jobs, services, activities or benefits based on disability. The law provides penalties for discrimination. Not every disabled person is covered by the ADA. Certain standards must be met for a person to qualify for the act's protections. To be considered "disabled" under the ADA, a person must have a condition that impairs a major life activity or a history of such a condition, or be regarded as having such a condition. A disabled person must be qualified for the job, program or activity to which he or she seeks access. To be qualified under the ADA, a disabled person must be able to perform the essential functions of a job or meet the essential eligibility requirements of the program or benefit, with or without an accommodation to his or her condition. Much of the language in the ADA is taken from existing federal civil rights law and court. decisions. Definitions of terms such as employee, employer, commerce, etc., are taken from Title VII of the Civil Right Act. Other terms, such as "reasonable accommodations," "qualified individual with a disability", "essential functions" and "undue hardship," come directly from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits federal fund recipients from discriminating on the basis of disability in their programs and activities. The ADA has five titles which cover employment, public services and transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and miscellaneous provisions. The various sections of the act become effective at different times. An overview of the separate provisions follows:
Public Services and Transportation (Title 11)
Title II of the ADA prohibits state and local governments, and educational institutions from discriminating against disabled people in their programs and activities. The law requires bus and rail transportation to be accessible to disabled passengers. Air transportation is not covered by the ADA. New public buses and new train cars in commuter, subway, inter-city (Amtrak) and light rail systems must be accessible to disabled riders. All new stations and facilities and "key" subway and light rail stations must be made accessible. Where fixed-route and rail bus service is offered, a public transit agency must also offer para-transit service.
Public Accommodations (Title 111)
The ADA prohibits private operated public accommodations from denying goods, programs and services to people based on their disabilities. Covered businesses must accommodate disabled patrons by changing policies and practices, providing auxiliary aids and improving physical accessibility, unless that would impose an undue burden. New and renovated commercial buildings must be accessible. Existing public accommodations must remove architectural and communications barriers where such removal is "readily achievable." Title III also requires providers of private transportation service, such as private bus lines and hotel vans, to make their vehicles and facilities accessible.
Telecommunications (Title IV)
Title IV of the ADA requires telephone companies to provide continuous voice transmission relay services that allow hearing and speech-impaired people to communicate over the phone through telecommunications devices for the deaf. In addition, Title IV requires that federally funded television public service messages be closed-captioned for hearing-impaired viewers.
Other Provisions (Title 5)
Miscellaneous provisions in Title 5 require the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board to issue accessibility standards; attorneys' fees be awarded to prevailing parties in suits filed under the ADA; and federal agencies to provide technical Title V states specifically that illegal use of drugs is not a covered disability under the act. It also provides that states are not immune from suits under the ADA and that other federal, state and local laws that provide equal or greater protection to individuals with disabilities are not superseded or limited by the ADA.
The following discussion highlights Section 504 as it pertains to the academic and program aspects of community colleges. The discussion is not inclusive of all aspects of Section 504 or even of all those relating to post-secondary institutions. For the purpose of explaining who is covered by this law, 504 offers the following definitions:
Individuals with Disabilities Any person who has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activity (functions such as caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working); has a record of such an impairment; is regarded as having an impairment, or has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits major life activities only as a result of the attitude of others toward such impairment.
Qualified Individuals with Disabilities An individual with disabilities who meets the academic and technical standard requisite to admission or participation in the educational program or activity.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in recruitment, admission, and treatment after admission. It mandates all recipients of federal funding to make adjustments and accommodations in their programs and activities in order to provide qualified individuals with disabilities with opportunities equal to those enjoyed by qualified individuals without disabilities.
Section 504 requires that each program or activity operated by the institution be readily accessible to individuals with disabilities when viewed in its entirety. An institution is not required to make each of its existing facilities or every part of a facility accessible. Extensive facility renovations are not always necessary to meet this requirement as long as other methods can be used effectively to achieve program accessibility. Priority must be given, when using other methods, to those alternatives, which would offer programs and activities "in the most integrated setting possible." Any programs that are currently inaccessible because of the need for major structural modifications should have been changed no later than June 1981. It is possible that when the Americans with Disability Act Committee conducted the self-study for our transition plan that we overlooked some areas where changes need to be made. Your continued input is vital if the goal of full participation for students with disabilities is to be met.
Reasonable Adjustments to Academic Requirements
Section 504 prohibits exclusion of qualified students with disabilities from any course or area of concentration on the basis of disability. Moreover, it is considered discriminatory to counsel students with disabilities toward more restrictive careers than students without disabilities, unless such counsel is based on strict licensing or certification requirements in a profession. Post secondary institutions are, therefore, required by 504 to make reasonable adjustments to permit students with disabilities to fulfill academic requirements. Reasonable adjustments may include the following: increased time allowances to complete degree requirements, substitution of equivalent courses for those that cannot be made accessible for students with disabilities, changes in teaching methods, and changes in the manner of conducting classes. Course examinations and other methods of evaluating a student's academic achievement must be conducted in a way that will reflect the student's achievement rather than his impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills (except when such skills are the factors which are being measured).
Post secondary institutions must take steps to ensure that students with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills are not, in effect, excluded from programs because of the absence of education auxiliary aids. "Auxiliary aids" may include taped texts, interpreters or other effective methods of making orally delivered materials available to students with hearing impairments, readers in libraries for students with visual impairment, and other similar services and actions. Institutions, however, need not provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature. It is unlawful to prohibit students with disabilities from using any auxiliary aid, including tape recorders, in the classroom when the aid is needed to ensure full participation of the student.
Section 508 was enacted to eliminate barriers in information technology, to make available new opportunities for people with disabilities, and to encourage development of technologies that will help achieve these goals.
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