Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Beyond Section 504: Satisfaction and Empowerment of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Beyond Section 504: Satisfaction and Empowerment of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: College and university students with disabilities were surveyed to determine their levels of satisfaction with accessibility, special services, and accommodations at their schools. In addition, students were requested to identify barriers to postsecondary education, improvements in services, and other concerns. Respondents generally, expressed satisfaction with the services that they had received. However, the majority indicated that they had encountered barriers to their education, including a lack of understanding and cooperation from administrators, faculty, staff,, and other students; lack of adaptive aids and other resources; and inaccessibility of buildings and grounds. Recommendations were made for improving the delivery of services and self-advocacy of students with disabilities.

* Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Public Law 93-112) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabling conditions by programs and activities receiving or benefiting from federal financial assistance, protection that was extended to all citizens with disabilities through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 100-336). Subpart E of the rules and regulations for Section 504 ("Nondiscrimination on Basis of Handicap," 1977) addresses postsecondary educational services and specifically prohibits discrimination in the areas of recruitment and admissions, academic and athletic programs and activities, student examinations and evaluations, housing, financial aid, counseling, and career planning and placement. In addition, schools are required to make modifications to academic requirements and other rules that discriminate against students with disabilities, to provide auxiliary aids such as taped texts and readers to students with disabilities, and to ensure that social organizations supported by the school do not discriminate on the basis of disability.

It is important to note that Section 504 requires that programs, not environments, be accessible to students with disabilities. A school need not create a totally barrier-free environment, so long as it does not significantly hinder the participation of students with disabilities in a program when viewed in its entirety. Thus, schools have a tremendous degree of flexibility in the means by which they accommodate students with disabilities. For example, a class may be moved to an accessible building to accommodate a student with physical disabilities, rather than making all buildings on campus accessible.

Students with disabilities are enrolling in postsecondary schools in increasing numbers, and they now comprise at least 7% of all incoming freshmen (Bowe, 1987; "Report Shows," 1987), although the exact proportion is unknown because this is voluntary information. Since the issuance of Section 504 regulations, the research on postsecondary students with disabilities has generally followed one of two paths: First, postsecondary institutions have been examined, almost exclusively via self-report surveys, for their compliance with Section 504 and for the types of services and accommodations offered (Bursick, Rose, Cowen, & Yahaya, 1989; Marion & Iovaccini, 1983; Sergent, Sedlacek, Carter, & Scales, 1987; Trowbridge & Mannelly, 1987; Walter & Welsh, 1986; Williams, 1988). Second, many researchers have described the problems and postsecondary service needs for specific populations, including students with learning disabilities (Nelson & Lignugaris/Kraft, 1989; Vogel, 1989), physical disabilities (Alexander, 1979; Babbitt, Burbach, & Iutcovich, 1979; Fichten, Amsel, Bourdon, & Creti, 1988), spinal cord injury (Dailey, 1979), mental retardation (McAfee & Scheeler, 1987), and traumatic brain injury (Buethe, 1989; Savage, 1987).

As noted by McAfee (1989), this literature tends to be reactive rather than proactive. That is, the literature tends to describe how postsecondary schools and students with disabilities have coped with each other, rather than exploring means of improving services to promote success. …

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