The Legal Corner

The Laws that Govern Disability in the Higher Education Arena

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a law that protects individuals from discrimination based on their disability in connection with any public or private program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. The Act is divided into seven Subparts. Subpart D applies to K-12 schools and Subpart E applies to postsecondary institutions. A 504 Plan is developed when a K-12 student needs certain accommodations and modifications to either the physical space in the school or the learning environment (but not a special education program, as that would be part of an IEP under the IDEA). Subpart E states that postsecondary students must be granted the opportunity to compete with their non-disabled peers.


The ADA stands for The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA is a federal civil rights law designed to provide equal opportunity for qualified individuals with disabilities, including students. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of a qualified disability and ensures that qualified disabled students can have equal access and opportunity for participation in the programs, services and activities offered by a recipient of federal financial assistance. The ADA was amended in 2008 by, among other things, expanding the definition of disability and what it means to be regarded as disabled under the statute.

Section 508

Section 508, an amendment to the United States Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973, is a federal law mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government be accessible to people with disabilities. Visit for more information.

Title 5

Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) (Education Code, Section 84850 and Title 5, California Code of Regulations (5 CCR) Sections 56000-56076) were enacted in 1976 through the passage of Assembly Bill 77 (Lanterman), which funds support services and instructional programs for students with disabilities in the California Community Colleges.  DSPS assists colleges to provide academic adjustments, auxiliary aids, services and/or instruction for students with disabilities to support their student success and to meet the requirements of federal and State non-discrimination laws, including Sections 504 and 508 of the federal Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), The Americans with Disabilities Amendment Act (ADAA), and State Government Code Sections 11135-11139.5.