NAICU Washington Update

Education Department Hosts Listening Session on Disability Regulations

June 17, 2022

The Department of Education hosted a listening session for several higher education associations, including NAICU, regarding potential revisions to the agency’s disability discrimination rules. 

The listening session was part of an effort by the Department to gather stakeholder feedback as it prepares to update longstanding regulations under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. If updated, it will be the first major overhaul of the regulations in 45 years and could have significant implications for how educational institutions provide accommodations for students with disabilities.  

According to the Department, the agency is seeking to improve protections for students with disabilities, including students with mental health disabilities, while simultaneously providing clear, workable standards for educational institutions. 

Several themes emerged during the listening session. In particular, participants noted that colleges and universities are committed to serving students with disabilities and believe the current regulations generally work well, striking the right balance between promoting access for students with disabilities while respecting institutional diversity, mission, and academic quality. 

Participants also emphasized that the model of individualized assessment and accommodations should be retained to best serve students with disabilities while maintaining flexibility for institutions. For example, participants noted that, rather than being compelled to provide remote learning as a reasonable accommodation, institutions should retain the discretion to determine that in-person learning is a core function of an education program. At the same time, participants acknowledged that remote instruction may be a reasonable accommodation in limited circumstances, but such judgement is based on many factors, such as the needs of the student and the academic judgement of the faculty and administration. 

The Department’s goal is to publish proposed section 504 rules in 2023 and final regulations in 2024. The Department is seeking public feedback regarding potential changes to the section 504 regulations and will accept comments until the proposed rules are issued.  Interested parties may submit comments directly to the Department.

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