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Accommodations/Provisions Mandated by Law

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

"No otherwise qualified person with a disability in the United States shall solely by reason of his or her disability, 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."

According to this law, an individual with a disability is a person who has a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." With regard to post-secondary students, "qualified" refers to a person with a disability who meets the "academic and technical standards" required for admission to or participation in an educational program or activity. Section 504 mandates "reasonable accommodations" for students with disabilities via such methods as alternative format textbooks, alternative testing arrangements, curb cuts, and ramps to entrances of classrooms and buildings.

It should be stressed that nothing in the language or intent of Section 504 abridges the freedom of an institution of higher education to establish academic requirements and standards.

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA

The ADA, passed in 1990 and amended in 2008, gives people with disabilities the same rights that women and minorities have had since 1964. It prohibits discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. Employers are required to make "reasonable accommodations" for persons with disabilities unless such accommodations would result in "undue hardship."

Disability Laws and Post-secondary Institutions

Essentially, Section 504 and the ADA require that colleges and universities make reasonable adjustments to ensure equal access to the educational experience. For example, it may be necessary to allow a student with a reading disability to have reading materials in an audio format. Other examples might include extending time limits on exams or allowing lectures to be recorded when disabilities impact a student's ability to keep up with the lecturer. For students with physical disabilities, adjustments might need to be made to classrooms or sign interpreters might need to be provided.

Note that the emphasis in each of these adjustments is on the "may." The key is accommodating for the effects of the disability, not altering course content. The "may" means that, with the exception of removing architectural barriers, no set formulas exist for making adjustments that will be helpful in every case. Thus, the adaptation will be specific to the needs of the individual student. In every case, the intent is to accommodate for the disability without altering academic standards or course content.

While in high school, the student's home school district was legally responsible for initiating, developing, and providing all academic supports required for the student's full access to and involvement in the educational process.

At the post-secondary level, this responsibility changes:

The Office of Accessibility Resources and Services (OARS) and Bethel University have a different legal obligation than high schools do based on different laws that apply at the post-secondary level.

  • It is the student's responsibility to initiate and maintain contact with OARS.
  • OARS does not seek out students to determine if they need services.
  • If a student discloses their disability to OARS but does not subsequently choose to access our services, OARS does not seek them out.

Disability Discrimination

Bethel University complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the applicable state and local laws prohibiting discrimination in admissions and employment against qualified individuals with disabilities. In accordance with these laws, Bethel University provides reasonable accommodations for individuals with documented disabilities. Qualified individuals with disabilities are encouraged to seek admission to the university and apply for employment. Individuals seeking employment must be able to perform the essential functions of a job with or without reasonable accommodations. Our goal at the University is to promote institutional programs and employment practices that are accessible to all individuals with disabilities.

OARS seeks to meet individual needs by coordinating and implementing internal policies regarding programs, services, and activities for individuals with disabilities. The OARS functions as a source of information and advice and as a communication link among individuals with disabilities, faculty and staff members, and the community at large. Accommodating individuals with disabilities in a mainstreamed environment is the overall objective of the OARS office.

If an applicant, prospective student, student, or employee with a disability requires accommodations either for the application process, their academic studies, or employment, he or she should contact the Director of Accessibility Resources and Services or the Office of Human Resources. OARS receives disability-related documentation and handles the approval of requested accommodations. The process of documentation review involves an individual assessment of the individual’s disability with respect to the documentation presented and the accommodations requested. OARS focuses on providing services needed by students, staff, and guests of the university with disabilities to minimize the extent to which their disability affects their opportunities in the Bethel academic environment.

Written appeal of an accommodation decision made by OARS can be made to the ADA/504 Compliance Officer, Cara Wald, who also serves as the Director of Human Resources at 651.638.6119 or c-wald@bethel.edu. The appeal should be made in writing within 14 calendar days of the disputed decision. The appeal should contain:

  1. A short description of the disputed decision,
  2. Why the person appealing believes the decision was in error, and
  3. A short description of a proposed resolution to the disputed decision.

The ADA Compliance Officer will respond in writing to the complainant within 14 calendar days of the appeal.

Appeal of the decision made by the ADA Compliance Officer can be made to the President of Bethel University at 651.638.6230 or president@bethel.edu. The appeal should be made in writing within 14 calendar days of the disputed decision. The appeal should contain:

  1. A short description of the disputed decision,
  2. Why the person appealing believes the decision was in error, and
  3. A short description of a proposed resolution to the disputed decision.

The President will respond in writing to the complainant within 14 calendar days of the appeal. The decision of the President shall be considered final.

Reasonable Accommodations

A reasonable accommodation ensures that a qualified student with a disability has an equal opportunity. Equal opportunity means that the student has the opportunity to achieve the same level of performance as a similarly situated student without a disability. Reasonable accommodations are guided by the barriers resulting from the disability and the course. The process of determining accommodations also considers what the essential elements of the course are and ensures that any accommodations will not compromise those elements. For example, an instructor may determine that class participation is fundamental to the course. In that case, a request for an attendance accommodation is not reasonable.


The Office for Civil Rights: Transition Information for Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education

ADA Homepage

Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD)

US Department of Justice's "Guide to Disability Rights Laws," including sections on the ADA and section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973