When President George W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act on September 25, 2008, it was an anxious moment for many in the higher education community. “Some educators and legislators were saying, ‘You’re going to have a flood of new people with disabilities on your campuses,’” says Erin Evans, disability compliance officer and associate director of the Dean of Students Office at Suffolk Law.
In an effort to allay these concerns, Evans recently brought national Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) expert Salome Heyward—a civil rights attorney with 35 years of experience in disability discrimination law—to speak at the Disability and Education Laws Symposium, held at the law school in February.
“Some people see the new amendments and think that the barbarians are at the gate—they’re storming the castle, and they’re coming after the princess,” Heyward told the crowd with a laugh. “It’s not that bad.”
Heyward began her talk by reviewing disability legislation, starting with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—the first piece of federal legislation to address discrimination against people with disabilities—and tracing its legal evolution to the present day. To explain the need for the new amendments, Heyward walked through rulings and laws that came in the wake of the original ADA in 1990, when subsequent decisions restricted and complicated the rules to a point at which the original protections were almost lost. “Over a 10- to 15-year period, it just became absurd,” Heyward said. The new amendments, she explained, were a reaction to this convolution—a return to the broader interpretation of disability permitted under previous law.
While the law puts new responsibilities on colleges and universities—possibly demanding increased funding for student assessments and stretching disability services staff—Heyward noted that institutions of higher education aren’t powerless. Individuals still must prove and document disabilities to be protected, she told the crowd, and institutions can decide which accommodations are most effective and reasonable.
The audience of 125 (plus an additional 25 who watched the program via webcast) included college administrators, faculty, and staff from schools across the region and throughout the country.
“Salome appealed to a broad audience, which is exactly what we had at the symposium,” says Evans. “And her message is applicable to all higher academic institutions—if your business is retaining students and providing high-quality student services, you have to be prepared to include students with disabilities.”
FROM THE DEANLooking Ahead
LAW BRIEFSMasterman Institute Hosts Inaugural Event
ALUMNI PROFILESMaureen McKenna Goldberg