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Civil Rights Laws exist to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. For higher education, this means creating content that does not discriminate against people with special learning needs or work styles. The Office for Civil Rights investigates complaints to ensure colleges and universities adhere to these laws. It is best to be proactive about accessibility in your online classroom.

The two most relevant civil rights laws for higher education include:

The Rehabilitation Act, Sections 504 and 508

In 1973, The Rehabilitation Act included no specific language about online learning.

    • Section 508 (
    • Section 508 establishes more specific guidelines for technology accessibility, requiring that “any Electronic and Information Technology (E&IT) developed, procured, maintained or used by Federal departments and agencies must allow Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities access to and use of information and data.” This means that technology, like that used for online writing instruction, must be available equally to all students.
    • Section 504 exists in broader terms to say, “No qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied benefit of, or be subjected to discrimination” under programs or activities receiving federal assistance. In other words, education programs must be made accessible to students with disabilities.

Americans with Disabilities Act, Title II

  • This Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in areas such as employment, higher education, and public accommodations. Title II requires that state and local governments make reasonable modifications, so that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to benefit from public services, programs, and activities, including public education.


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