ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) - Students (Title II)

Applicable Laws and Policies

Specific questions about students and disabilities should be directed to the individual or office at the relevant UW System institution that is responsible for assisting with this issue, such as the campus Accessibility Resource Center.

Federal Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (2008) (42 U.S.C. §§ 12101) (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (29 U.S.C. §§ 701-796) (“Section 504”)  prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability.  The ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in the areas of employment and access to state and local government programs and services. Section 504 provides similar protections against discrimination in regard to programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

University of Wisconsin System Policy

In accordance with the ADA and Section 504, the University of Wisconsin System has adopted a policy that prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability. This policy details the responsibilities of University of Wisconsin System institutions and the rights of students and members of the general public (Regent Policy 14-10).

Overview of Students

Title II of the ADA prohibits any government body, including University of Wisconsin System institutions, from denying any qualified individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in any program, service or activity offered. In addition, an institution must provide reasonable accommodations, when necessary, to allow an individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in the institution’s educational programs, service and/or activity.  Likewise, Section 504 prohibits any program receiving federal financial assistance from discriminating against an individual based on that individual’s disability.

Qualified Individual with a Disability

A “qualified individual with a disability” is a person with a disability who, with regard to the educational program or activity, is capable of fulfilling the essential functions and requirements of the program or activity with or without “reasonable accommodations.”


To receive protections of the law in the first instance, the individual must have a “disability.”  Generally speaking, an individual is disabled under one or more of the following conditions:

  1. The individual has a physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits on or more major life activities.
  2. The individual has a record or history of having a physical and/or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  3. The individual is regarded as, or have been misclassified as, having a physical and/or mental impairment, and you have been subjected to a discriminatory act that is illegal under the ADA and/or Section 504.

Reasonable Accommodation

A “reasonable accommodation” means any reasonable modification of the institution’s rules, policies or practices, environmental adjustments (such as the removal of architectural or communicative barriers) or auxiliary aids and services. An accommodation is not reasonable if it would result in an undue financial or administrative burden or hardship; require a fundamental alteration to the program, service or activity; violate accreditation requirements; or require the waiver of essential program or licensing requirements. Some examples of a reasonable accommodation include modification of examinations, training materials or policies, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, such as qualified readers or interpreters.

Interactive Process for Reasonable Accommodations

The accommodation process should be an interactive process which provides for give-and-take between the institution and the student. However, remember that, while the student’s preference should be considered, the institution has the ultimate discretion to determine what accommodation will be provided. The institution does not have to choose the best accommodation, but rather the accommodation that is sufficient to effectively meet the program-related needs of the student.

Complaint Process

Institutions must have a complaint process for students to appeal an accommodation decision or to file a complaint of disability discrimination or harassment.

Documentation of Disability

A student who wishes to receive accommodations for the student’s disability must make a request for such following the specific campus procedure.  Generally, the procedures will require that the student to provide recent, supporting documentation of the disability from an appropriate treating professional that is relevant to the requested accommodation. This documentation should include a diagnosis of the disability, the major life activities that the disability impairs, the disability’s severity, any functional or educational limitations caused by the disability and recommended accommodations.

Note: The office that stores and maintains documentation of a student’s disability should keep the documentation separate from other educational records and ensure that the documentation is only disclosed to those persons who have a legitimate need to know about a student’s disability.

Campus Programs and Activities

Academic Requirements

As noted above, institutions are not required to grant accommodations requests which fundamentally alter academic requirements or essential aspects of academic programs.


Students with disabilities who seek testing-related accommodations should request them as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of a course or according to the procedures the institution has outlined.

Physical Education Requirements

An institution may not exclude a student with disabilities from a physical educational program if the student can meet the fundamental requirements of the program with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Off-Campus Programs and Activities

If an institution does not actually administer or operate a program, service or activity but nonetheless requires student participation, the institution must ensure that the program or activity provides an equal opportunity for the participation of students with disabilities.

Access to Facilities

An institution does not have to make structural changes to existing facilities if other methods of accommodation will provide reasonable access to a program or course for a student with a disability. For example, moving the program, service or activity to an accessible building is acceptable. However, if there is no way to provide the program, service or activity at an alternative location, the institution will have to make existing facilities accessible. Furthermore, each new facility must be designed and constructed in such a way that it is readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.