Campus Handicap–Disabled Students and the Right to Higher Education–Southeastern Community College v. Davis


Congressional interest in the plight of the handicapped originated in response to the needs of returning disabled World War I veterans. In 1920, President Wilson signed into law the Smith-Fess Act which established a program offering vocational rehabilitation in the form of training, counseling, and placement services to physically handicapped veterans. The program served approximately 500 handicapped individuals in its first year. While the scope and effectiveness of the program established by the Smith-Fess Act changed substantially during the fifty-three years following its inception, the basic purpose of congressional aid for the handicapped continued to be training and rehabilitation.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (1973 Act) marked the beginning of a new type of congressional aid for the handicapped. Title V of the 1973 Act (Title V) was the first major piece of civil rights legislation for the handicapped, establishing basic rights for disabled individuals. Congress declared that the objective of the 1973 Act was “the complete integration of all individuals with handicaps into normal community living, working, and service patterns.” In order to realize its objective of equality for the millions of disabled Americans, Congress required equal opportunity, equal rights under the law, and equal access to programs, buildings, and facilities. Section 501 of Title V prohibits discrimination against the handicapped in federal government employment, and requires the federal government to take affirmative steps to employ the handicapped. Section 502 creates the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board and empowers the Board to establish and carry out barrier-free construction and transportation programs for the disabled. Section 503 requires that federal government contractors take affirmative action to ensure equal employment opportunities for the disabled. Section 504, potentially the most far-reaching of Title V’s provisions, prohibits discrimination against the handicapped in all federally funded programs. Section 504 provides that: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in section 706(6) of this title, shall, solely by reason of his handicap, 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.”

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