Disability Rights On Campus: A Feminist Breakdown


Fall semesters around the United States have started again, and students across the country will come to face the realization that academia is tough. It’s not just tough in terms of workload and mental stamina, but in regard to how draining it can be. Students who already have a history of issues with their mental or physical health may find that their problems are triggered or exacerbated (such as migraines, anxiety, or asthma), and college can bring on a whole host of new threats to wellness — like mental health issues stemming from stress, sexual assault, or things like physical issues coming from athletics or travel.

The problem is that many students have no idea that they have legal protections to help grant them accommodations and prevent them from being discriminated against. There are a few simple things you should know about disability rights on campus. While a lot of the examples I’ll discuss are in the context of college, the Americans With Disabilities Act (and its amendments) grants a full prohibition on discrimination against individuals with disabilities in “any public sphere.” This means that it applies to any school — as well as more well-known applications like hotels, employers, etc.

  1. Know your disability rights.
  • What is the scope of Americans With Disabilities Act?

Like I mentioned above, the ADA is a law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Disabilities are generally considered by this law to include things that “substantially limit” one or more “major life activity,” (like sleeping, walking, internal functions, etc), though the term “substantially limits” is not defined by the law. The original law was passed in 1990, but amendments passed in 2008 updated the ADA’s discussion of “major life activities” to include self-care and more general things like thinking, working, and learning.

  • What if I don’t consider myself disabled (to myself or to others) but still struggle with some kind of mental or physical issue?

The ADA also includes people who others consider disabled (even if they themselves do not), those who have a history of a qualifying disability or issue, and even people who are discriminated against because of their association with someone who has a disability.

The broad scope of the law means that chances are, if you are struggling with an issue that is interfering significantly in your life, or have before, you’re legally covered.

  1. Don’t wait to get documentation — be proactive.

Though the law itself is purposefully designed to be broad so that people can’t be excluded from exerting their legal rights, that doesn’t mean every school office, official, or professor is thrilled to cooperate. (**Important note: while private universities are subject to the ADA like public/state universities are, if your university is run by a religious organization, it is not covered under the ADA**)

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