University of Houston-Victoria

Disability Services

Disability Laws

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is generally viewed as the first civil rights legislation for people with disabilities at the national level. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a program access statue. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity offered by an entity or institution receiving federal funds. Since 1977, all institutions receiving federal funding must be prepared to provide appropriate academic adjustments and reasonable modifications to policies and practices for people with disabilities.

Section 504 states (as amended): “No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States… shall, solely on the basis of disability, be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity provided by any institution receiving federal financial assistance.”

  • Subpart E of Section 504 specifically addresses postsecondary education.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The ADA is a federal civil rights statute designed to remove barriers which prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same opportunities available to persons without disabilities. Universities are covered in many ways under the ADA. Employment is addressed by Title I, and accessibility provided by public and private entities addressed by Titles II and III. Private colleges and universities are covered under Title III, unless they are wholly owned and operated by religious organizations. Title IV covers telecommunications and miscellaneous items are covered under Title V. The ADA does not replace Section 504, but in situations where the ADA provides more protection, the ADA standards apply.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Its overall purpose is to make American Society more accessible to people with disabilities.

The ADA's protection applies primarily, but not exclusively, to individuals who meet the ADA's definition of disability.   The term "disability" means, with respect to an individual:

1. A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
2. A record of such an impairment; or
3. Being regarded as having such an impairment.

  • Title II of the ADA, State and Local Governments, is the part of the law that impacts state universities.


ADA Amendments Act of 2008

In 2008, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) was passed. Its purpose is to broaden the definition of disability, which had been narrowed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

  • The ADAAA defines disability as 1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; 2) a record (or past history) of such an impairment; 3) being regarded as having a disability
  • The definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals
  • The term “substantially limits” requires a lower degree of functional limitation than the standard previously applied by the courts . An impairment does not need to prevent or severely or significantly restrict a major life activity to be considered “substantially limiting.” Nonetheless, not every impairment will constitute a disability.
  • The term “substantially limits” is to be construed broadly in favor of expansive coverage, to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA.
  • The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity requires an individualized assessment, as was true prior to the ADAAA.
  • With one exception (“ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses”), the determination of whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity shall be made without regard to the ameliorative effects of mitigating measures, such as medication or hearing aids.
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
  • In keeping with Congress’s direction that the primary focus of the ADA is on whether discrimination occurred, the determination of disability should not require extensive analysis.