ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) - Students (Title II)
This document provides a summary of the law in this area and answers questions frequently asked of attorneys in the Office of General Counsel. However, the information presented here is intended for informational purposes only and nothing in this document should be construed or relied upon as legal advice. The Office of General Counsel or your Campus Legal Counsel should be consulted regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter.
Applicable Laws and Policies
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination on the basis of a qualified disability. (42 U.S.C. § 12101) The ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in the areas of employment and access to state and local government programs and services. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. §§ 701-796) provides similar protections against discrimination in regard to programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.
University of Wisconsin System Policy
In accordance with the ADA and Section 504, the University of Wisconsin System has adopted a policy that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals. This policy details the responsibilities of University of Wisconsin System institutions and the rights of students and members of the general public (Regent Policy 14-10). If you have a specific question or concern, please consult Regent Policy 14-10 and/or contact the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
Students in General
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any government body, including the University of Wisconsin System, from denying any qualified individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in any program, service or activity offered. In addition, an institution must provide reasonable accommodations, when necessary, to allow an individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in the institution's educational programs, service and/or activity.
Qualified Individual with a Disability
A qualified individual with a disability is a person with a disability who is applying for admission to or participation in a program, service or activity of the institution or who is currently participating in a program, service or activity of the institution and who, with or without reasonable accommodations, meets the essential eligibility requirements for participating in those programs, services or activities. Persons are not qualified if they present a direct threat to the health or safety of themselves or others.
A reasonable accommodation means any reasonable modification of the institution's rules, policies or practices, environmental adjustments (such as the removal of architectural or communicative barriers) or auxiliary aids and services. An accommodation is not reasonable if it would result in an undue financial or administrative burden or hardship; require a fundamental alteration to the program, service or activity; violate accreditation requirements; or require the waiver of essential program or licensing requirements. Some examples of a reasonable accommodation include modification of examinations, training materials or policies, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, such as qualified readers or interpreters. Because determining a reasonable accommodation is often complex and fact-specific, please contact your institution’s Disabled Students Services Coordinator for assistance. If that person is unable to assist you, please contact System's Affirmative Action Officer. Any questions that remain should be directed to the Office of General Counsel or to Campus Legal Counsel.
Interactive Process for Reasonable Accommodations
The accommodation process should be an interactive process which provides for give-and-take between the institution and the student. However, remember that, while the student's preference should be considered, the institution has the ultimate discretion to determine what accommodation will be provided. The institution does not have to choose the best accommodation, but rather the accommodation that is sufficient to effectively meet the program-related needs of the student.
Institutions must have a complaint process for students to appeal an accommodation decision or to file a complaint of disability discrimination or harassment. Please review your campus policies and procedures for additional information.
Except in very limited circumstances, an institution may not inquire about possible disabilities before deciding whether to admit an individual. If an applicant for admission includes materials about a disability with his or her application, the institution may not consider these materials in deciding whether to admit the applicant. However, all institutions must notify admitted students of the institutional processes for disclosing disabilities and requesting reasonable accommodations.
An institution must not use admissions tests to screen out disabled applicants. An institution must administer admissions tests to individuals with disabilities as regularly as it does other admissions tests. An institution must provide reasonable testing accommodations to disabled individuals. The individual with the disability must, however, make his or her special needs known in a timely manner.
Finally, recruitment and eligibility criteria should not screen out applicants who would otherwise be qualified for admission. Eligibility criteria should be reviewed to ensure that they are fundamental and essential to the program. Institutions may be required to waive non-fundamental requirements that bar applicants with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for admission.
Documentation of Disability
Once accepted for admission, a student who wishes to receive accommodations for his or her disability must identify the disability. The institution should then require the student to provide recent, supporting documentation of the disability from an appropriate treating professional that is relevant to the requested accommodation. This documentation should include a diagnosis of the disability, the major life activities that the disability impairs, the disability's severity, any functional or educational limitations caused by the disability and recommended accommodations.
Note: The office that stores and maintains documentation of a student's disability should keep the documentation separate from other educational records and ensure that the documentation is only disclosed to those persons who have a legitimate need to know about a student's disability. Before disclosing disability documentation, a disability services employee may wish to consult the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.
Campus Programs and Activities
In modifying academic requirements to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, institutions should ensure that the modifications do not fundamentally alter educational programs or compromise educational standards. Academic requirements that are essential to programs of instruction (such as mathematics for an engineering major) are not discriminatory under the ADA. Consult with the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel and appropriate faculty to determine which academic requirements are essential to programs of instruction.
Students with disabilities must request test accommodations as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of a course or according to the procedures the institution has outlined. The institution should determine appropriate accommodations individually, based on documentation of the nature of the disability.
Physical Education Requirements
An institution may not exclude a student with disabilities from a physical educational program if he or she can meet the fundamental requirements of the program with or without a reasonable accommodation.
Off-Campus Programs and Activities
If an institution does not actually administer or operate a program, service or activity but nonetheless requires student participation, the institution must ensure that the program or activity provides an equal opportunity for the participation of students with disabilities.
Access to Facilities
An institution does not have to make structural changes to existing facilities if other methods of accommodation will provide reasonable access to a program or course for a student with a disability. For example, moving the program, service or activity to an accessible building is acceptable. However, if there is no way to provide the program, service or activity at an alternative location, the institution will have to make existing facilities accessible. Furthermore, each new facility must be designed and constructed in such a way that it is readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.