Legal Rights and Responsibilities for Students with Disabilities

By understanding your rights and responsibilities, you will know what you need to do, and what the college is required to do, for you to have an equal opportunity for success.

Federal laws

Following is a description of laws and how they pertain to you as a college student with a disability.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

This civil rights statute is designed to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities, as amended in 1990. It provides that:

No otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States shall, solely by reason of his/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.

This law requires that postsecondary schools be prepared to make appropriate accommodations and reasonable modifications to their college’s procedures and practices, so that you can fully participate in the same programs and activities that are available to students without disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also a civil rights law. It helps to implement and enforce Section 504, and also outlines additional protections. While Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states that public institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of disability if they receive federal funds, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 states that with or without federal funds, public institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. Private colleges and universities are covered under the ADA, unless they are completely owned and operated by religious organizations.

Discrimination complaints

Some individual instructors are not familiar with ADA or Section 504 requirements, or with the purpose of accommodating students with disabilities. The disability services coordinator can serve as a liaison between you and the instructor, and can advocate for reasonable accommodations.

Some colleges have an appeals committee that conducts informal hearings related to alleged violations of student rights.

If you cannot resolve your situation informally, follow the school’s internal grievance procedure. All colleges are required to have complaint or grievance procedures related to discrimination. The procedures are formal steps outlined to resolve the issue.

  • The formal process usually begins with the faculty or staff member most directly involved, the student and a mediator. If satisfactory resolution is not reached, the process may continue with the person’s supervisor, then the department head, a Dean, and possibly members of the college’s Board of Education.
  • All colleges are required by law to designate at least one staff person to coordinate compliance with Section 504 and the ADA. That person may be located in the Disability Services Office. If not, inquire there to find out who to contact. If you believe you were discriminated against on the basis of disability, you can receive help from the Section 504/ADA compliance coordinator.
  • You also have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for investigation. You must submit the complaint within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You can contact the region representing Nebraska at:

U.S. Department of Education
Office of Civil Rights
Region VII
10220 North Executive Hills Boulevard
Kansas City, MO 64153-1367
816-891-8026