The obligation to accommodate students with disabilities extends beyond moral responsibility and beyond our University's commitment to fulfill the promise of access.
President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. This law reinforces the concept of reasonable accommodations in education and mandates greater access to employment, transportation, and public accommodations for individuals with disabilities.
There is a legal imperative for equal access, which is embodied in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, often referred to as the "Civil Rights Act" for people with disabilities. It states, in part:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his 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.
In order to comply with this imperative, universities, such as Middle Tennessee State University, that receive federal assistance must assure the same education programs and services offered to other students be available to students with disabilities.
To accomplish this goal, both physical and programmatic access must be provided. This means more than the removal of architectural barriers and the provision of auxiliary services. It means that reasonable accommodations must be made in the instructional process to ensure full educational opportunity. This principle applies to all teaching strategies, as well as to institutional and departmental policies.
In addition to these legal imperatives, MTSU has gained a reputation for being a "user friendly" campus. MTSU's Office of Disabled Student Services has gained a state-wide reputation for being proactive in addressing the needs of students with disabilities. Also, for students with mobility impairments, MTSU is viewed as a more viable alternative to other institutions, because the campus if relatively flat.
The concept of classroom accommodations for students with disabilities is not new. As a result of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), students have been requesting and receiving classroom accommodations for years. However, the ADA has brought more attention to accommodating the needs of individuals with disabilities. As a direct result of the passage of the ADA, the number of students who have identified themselves as having disabilities has increased markedly.
Procedures for Providing Accommodations
In order to assist faculty and students, MTSU has established procedures for students to request accommodations based on disability. The process is designed to minimize the impact upon faculty members and maintain privacy rights of the student, while providing the necessary accommodations for the student.:
All students with disabilities, whether a visible or hidden disability, who request an accommodation are required to provide appropriate documentation of that disability to the DSS. Students who request an accommodation without the appropriate accommodation form should be referred to DSS. At no time is a student required to provide documentation to any other administrator, dean, or teacher. Due to the sensitive nature of some disabilities and the right to privacy, the specific disability will not be mentioned in the DSS letter of accommodation. It is only necessary for instructors to know that the director has a record of the disability and has approved the student for specific accommodations. The letter serves as a student's documentation that s/he is an eligible student with a disability, and therefore entitled to effective and reasonable accommodations as identified in the letter.