The rights of students with disabilities are outlined in Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Section 504 is a Federal Civil Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 states:
No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in Section 706 of this title, shall, solely by reason of his handicap 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.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 expands the scope of institutional and service provider responsibility for providing reasonable accommodations to the disabled. The ADA is a civil rights statute.
It promises protection from discrimination on the basis of disability. It promises equal access to opportunities for persons with disabilities. A "person with a disability" as defined by law is someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.
Students with disabilities are a rapid growing minority at UNCW, as elsewhere in American higher education. The obligation to accommodate students with disabilities extends beyond the moral responsibility and beyond the university's commitment to fulfill the promise of access.
To assure equal opportunity to participate, both physical and programmatic access must be provided. This means more than the removal of architectural barriers and the provision of auxiliary services. It means that reasonable accommodations must also be made in the instructional process.