Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been around for thirty years, institutions are still taken to court for not fully complying with ADA requirements – resulting in heavy fines. Complying with ADA can be complex and time-consuming, but it’s critical that all campus members are ensured the same opportunities as their counterparts.
In the latest research, it is estimated that 19.4% of students in higher education reported having a disability. Disabilities can range from physical disabilities (walking, hearing, communicating) to invisible disabilities (such as, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, food allergies).
In most cases, the “Disabilities Office,” or those with similar responsibilities, will take full responsibility of providing reasonable accommodations to these students, making your campus compliant.
The question to ask yourself, is that enough? And, are only these employees required to have an understanding of ADA?
What is the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life so they can enjoy the same rights and opportunities as others. Colleges and universities taking federal funds must make all of their operations accessible to people with disabilities.
A person is protected under the ADA if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a “substantial limitation” looks to whether the limitation restricts the ability of an individual to perform a major life activity as compared with most people in the general population. The amendments to the ADA define “major life activities” as:
- Caring for oneself.
- Performing manual tasks.
- Seeing and hearing.
- Eating and sleeping.
- Walking, standing, lifting, and bending.
- Speaking and breathing.
- Learning, reading, concentrating, and thinking.
- Communicating and working.
Major life activities also apply to the operation of major bodily functions, such as those related to the immune system, normal cell growth, and digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive activities.
What is a Reasonable Accomodation?
A reasonable accommodation is whatever doesn’t constitute an undue hardship, or an undue burden/fundamental alteration. It helps to think of reasonable accommodations as anything getting the person with a disability to the same starting line as a person without a disability. For example, a faculty member using a wheelchair may require a desk that can be raised so they can use it comfortably.
With respect to financial undue hardship, the entire resources of the employer are looked at and most accommodations are not expensive. Accordingly, financial undue hardship is very difficult to show. With respect to logistical undue hardship, that means showing that the employer’s operations will be fundamentally altered by the accommodation.
Common ADA Oversights and Tips to Ensure a Non-Discriminatory Campus
It’s important to understand that ADA responsibility doesn't fall primarily on your Disabilities Office, but rather a number of campus departments, such as facilities, athletics, I.T., residence life, etc. If faculty or staff lack an understanding of ADA, they may inadvertently play a role in making your institution non-compliant with ADA.
Here are a few common oversights from University Business that explain the importance of training all employees on ADA compliance:
- Snow build-up covers handicap-accessible parking.
- A professor bans all electronics in the classroom except for those with disabilities.
- A garbage can is placed under the paper towel dispenser.
Five Helpful Tips to Ensure a Non-Discriminatory Campus
It is critical that institutions train all employees on ADA compliance, so campus members with disabilities can be ensured the same equal opportunities and reasonable accommodations as their counterparts.
- It takes an all-hands in approach – training faculty and staff on ADA, especially how it may relate to their position and responsibilities.
- Begin every project or development with ADA in mind – this will help you become more efficient with building ADA into the DNA of your campus, rather than having to go back and rework your ideas or projects.
- Review all potential accommodations before implementation, institutions are not required to purchase the most expensive solution.
- Remember to review all institution assets, many overlook digital assets, such as websites – which fall under ADA.
- Don’t look at ADA as a burden, rather an opportunity to prepare students for their future in a diverse workplace.
How SafeColleges Can Help
Our American with Disabilities Act Overview course is designed to provide employees an overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it might apply in schools. It covers the following: ADA basics,Program accessibility under Title II, the differences between the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act and the ADA, and effective communication in the educational context.