Accessibility Law & Definitions


Key federal legislation related to online courses in higher education includes the following:

  • Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973 made it unlawful to discriminate against persons with disabilities in all federally assisted programs, services, and employment.
      • Section 504 stipulates that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance.”
      • Section 508 is a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that requires electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by federal agencies to be accessible by people with disabilities.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is civil rights legislation signed in 1990 to prohibit discrimination based on a student’s disability.
      • The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 clarifies the definition of “disability” and broadens the number of individuals who are eligible for the protections of the ADA, including accommodations for temporary disabilities.


Disability:  A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

Accessibility:  All students can access, perceive, understand, navigate, interact, and contribute to web-based or technology-enhanced courses and materials.

Universal Design:  Proactive design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Accommodation:  Necessary and appropriate modifications to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to course materials and functions.

Assistive Technology:  Any equipment that is used to enhance the functional capabilities of students with disabilities.

Back to top