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Legal Issues

There are several laws that have a direct bearing on teaching in higher education with respect to accessibility.  These reinforce the need to afford equal access to students with disabilities to the whole curriculum and especially in the use of emerging technologies. Standards for accessibility and links to recent court cases are also included on this page.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

No one can 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 because of a disability.


Title II of the ADA (1990)

The Americans with Disabilities Act extended the benefits of Section 504 and included inclusionary language. Individuals with disabilities are allowed to participate in all programs and services, and they must be as integrated as possible.  Eligibility standards cannot automatically rule out someone with a disability and cannot have fees for accessibility. Colleges and universities are required to make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, and procedures that deny equal access and must provide effective communication.


ADA Amendments Act of 2008

The amendments act was passed to restore the intent and protections of the ADA of 1990.  It revised the definition of “disability” to encompass more people, including people with episodic impairments, without requiring extensive analysis or documentation. Other things clarified in the act are effective communication, service animals, power driven mobility devices, places of lodging, selling tickets, and new construction.


Policy Guidance by the Departments of Justice and Education: Dear Colleague Letter of 2010 & FAQ of 2011

A “Dear Colleague Letter” (DCL) issued jointly by CRD and OCR, addressed universities requiring the use of technology that is inaccessible to students with disabilities, [electronic textbooks] saying this constitutes discrimination under Section 504 and the ADA, unless these students are provided accommodations or modifications that enable them to receive all the educational benefits afforded by the technology in an equally effective and equally integrated manner. OCR followed up with a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document that is considered binding. This letter states ALL emerging technology used in any classroom, with or without students with disabilities, must be accessible at all times unless an equally effective alternative is offered.      According to this definition, students with disabilities must be provided the opportunity to—

                * acquire the same information

                * engage in the same interactions, and

                * enjoy the same services as students without disabilities

                * with “substantially equivalent ease of use.”



Standards for Accessibility

* Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act   Section 508 Standards apply to electronic and information technology procured by the federal government, including computer hardware and software, websites, multimedia such as video, phone systems, and copiers. The standards may soon apply to state and local governments as well, which includes public universities.

* Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0   Recognizing the tremendous value of the web, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets standards and provides step by step guides to make all web pages accessible. One of W3C's primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.  Any programs purchased by SVSU that are web based should meet WCAG standards, minimally with an AA level, ideally an AAA level. or

* Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT)  A VPAT is a  document prepared by vendors that describes the extent to which a particular product is accessible. It consists of eight sections, each designed to ensure that hardware and software products are usable by individuals with disabilities regardless of their ability to see, hear, manipulate a mouse or keyboard, or perform other tasks associated with the use of technology. Each section has criteria that must be met by the product or service in order for it to be considered Section 508 compliant. Before ordering any new electronic material that SVSU students will be using, request a VPAT.

* TEACH Act   The TEACH Act (pending legislation) will mandate guidelines be established for manufacturers of educational technology of higher education to ensure that textbook and other materials are usable by all students. It is supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) and Association of Higher Education and Disabilities (AHEAD).


Recent Court Cases:

* UDL on Campus keeps a list of agreements involving postsecondary institutions (scroll half way down the page):

* Law Office of Lainey Feingold provides a summary and links to court cases involving web accessibility.

* Office of Civil Rights maintains a web page with link to recent complaint resolutions and recent compliance reviews.


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Contact Us


Ann Coburn-Collins,
Director of Academic Support Programs

Wickes 260

Scott MacLeod
Assistant Director of Disability Services & Academic Support

Wickes 260

Deborah Rickert
Office Coordinator

Science East 201/Wickes 260