Picture of two students looking at a computer screen. Picture of a professor with a computer teaching a small group of students. Picture of a student working at a laptop.

Legal Module


Otherwise qualified postsecondary students with disabilities have been ensured legal protection from discrimination on the basis of disability since the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Subsequent civil rights laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) have reinforced, strengthened, and extended these protections.

Concurrently, students with disabilities in the K-12 system receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), federal legislation that was originally passed in 1975. A key emphasis of the IDEA is on planning and preparation for post-school life, including transition to postsecondary education. As a result, more secondary students with disabilities are academically prepared for postsecondary education.

Because of the increased preparation of secondary students with disabilities and simultaneous increased understanding of Section 504 and the ADA at the postsecondary level, there has been a significant increase in the number of qualified students with disabilities on college campuses. Over the past 20 years, many colleges and universities have initiated or expanded disability service programs to better serve these students.

Although these laws provide protection from discrimination and certain legal rights to otherwise qualified students with disabilities, they also place a number of responsibilities on these students. This module provides an overview of these laws and their impact on postsecondary institutions and faculty. The module also presents a set of recommendations and resources for faculty. The information in this module is intended as a guide and not as legal advice. For particular questions related to specific institutions or students, please contact your campus Office for Students with Disabilities.

Picture of a timeline of the major milestones for the Civil and Disabilities Rights movements.

Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, PL 110-325, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, PL108-446, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400 et seq.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended, Section 504, PL 93-112, 29 U.S.C. §§ 794 et seq. (1998).

Permission is granted to copy this document for educational purposes; however, please acknowledge your source using the following citation:

UDI Online Project. (2010). Legal Module. Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability, University of Connecticut, Storrs. http://www.udi.uconn.edu/index.php?q=content/legal-module