Accessibility | The Law


Individuals with disabilities should not be limited when it comes to accessing electronic and information technology. The failure to address issues of web accessibility ultimately alienates users with physical, sensory, and cognitive disabilities.


Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act states that… “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall solely by reason of… disability, be denied the benefits of, be excluded from the participation in, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

A person with a disability includes… “any person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities (including walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks), (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment.”

A “qualified person with a disability” is defined as one… “who meets the academic and technical standards as requisite to admission or participation in the educational program or activity.”

Section 504 protects the rights of qualified individuals who have disabilities such as, but not limited to:

  • Blindness/visual impairment
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness/hearing impairment
  • Epilepsy or seizure disorder
  • Orthopedic/mobility impairment
  • Specific learning disabilities
  • Speech and language disorder
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Traumatic brain surgery

Section 504 also protects students with chronic illnesses and “treatable disabilities”, such as, but not limited to:

  • AIDS
  • Arthritis
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac disease
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Psychiatric disability

Under the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973… colleges may not discriminate in the recruitment, educational process, or treatment of students based on a disability. Students who have self-identified, provided documentation of disability, and requested reasonable accommodations are entitled to receive approved modifications of programs, appropriate academic adjustments, or auxiliary aids that enable them to participate in and benefits from all educational programs and activities.

(See Appendix III, Auxiliary Aids, and Services for Post Secondary Students with Disabilities, for additional information)

The purpose of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act as amended in 1998 is to… “ensure… electronic and information technology allows… individuals with disabilities…access to and use of information and data that is comparable to… individuals [without] disabilities”.

Senate Bill 866 in North Carolina law made changes to the person with disabilities protection act to include “information technology”. This states, “public services shall administer its services, programs, and activities in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the person with disabilities”. This act became effective January 1, 2003.

The Office of Civil Rights is the entity that oversees these laws and handles complaints. They offer a publication entitled “Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post Secondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities”.

Who must comply with Section 508?

  • Each federal department and agency
  • United States Postal Service
  • Those involved in the procuring, developing, maintaining, or using electronic and information technology.