What is the definition of a disability?

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act as Amended (ADAAA 2008), an individual with a disability is someone who experiences or lives with an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or who is regarded as, or has a history of being regarded as, an individual with a disability.

Major life activities include, but are not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.

Major Bodily Functions include, but are not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions.

The ADAAA includes in its coverage individuals who experience episodic conditions, or conditions in remission, which when active, would constitute a disabling condition.  Further, there is a widely recognized list of per se disabilities that would typically result in that individual being considered an individual with a disability.  The law favors broad coverage of disability status, and individuals with disabilities.

Who is accountable, and why?

While classified as a private educational institution, USC receives federal funding related to financial aid, scholarships, and grants for research, as well as other federally funded initiatives.  Because of this, USC and all of its members (i.e. faculty and staff) are accountable for complying with federal disability laws, including the following:

  • ADAAA (2008), titles II and III, particularly addressing disability from a civil rights perspective, by defining disability as a protected class and establishing prevention of discrimination against this population.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, particularly relating to providing equal access to the learning, physical and programmatic settings for students with disabilities.

How does USC provide access and equity?

The University has designated Office of Student Accessibility Services (OSAS) as the unit responsible for ensuring equal access for students. Equal access is typically provided via approved accommodations and auxiliary aids for use in classrooms, course-related testing, housing, dining, events and activities, fieldwork/clinical placements, and physical/architectural settings.

OSAS reviews appropriate medical documentation, and consistent with laws and best practices, determines reasonable accommodations, as well as auxiliary aids and services.

Accommodations, auxiliary aids and services are determined by OSAS staff on an individualized basis, following an interactive student file review process. File reviews are conducted by teams of disability specialists, who consider information supplied by the student, as well as requirements and academic standards maintained by the University, academic departments, and individual courses.  Additionally, OSAS participates in processes by which students may raise their concerns for review or appeal, and provides referrals to USC investigative bodies (i.e. Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX) to help address possible discriminatory experiences.

What does this mean for students?

Ensuring equal access for students with disabilities is an interactive process that directly involves the student seeking support. At the college level, the request for disability-related support is initiated by the student directly, rather than the University or OSAS office. Once the student begins the registration process, OSAS partners with the student to help ensure the request is complete and the review process moves forward as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is essential that the student stay engaged with OSAS during this process by responding to communications and meeting requests from OSAS.

Once accommodations, aids, or services are approved, the student has the choice and the responsibility to notify their professors of approved accommodations in a timely fashion each semester. At USC, this process is done via Accommodation Letters that students generate through MyOSAS (OSAS’ student database) and provide directly to each instructor before making use of accommodations.  Depending on the accommodations or services approved for the specific student, there may be other action steps necessary. Find more detail about implementing approved accommodations on the Current Students section of this site. Any questions may be raised to the student’s OSAS Specialist.

It is important for students to know that accommodations and services may not cause a fundamental alteration to core requirements of the course, program of study, or University requirements.  Students, faculty, and OSAS staff work together to define the limitations, if they exist, for accommodations.

Detailed information regarding OSAS' registration process, documentation guidelines, and process for resolving concerns is available on this website or via the following direct links:

What does this mean for faculty/instructors and staff?

Although USC is not required by law to change the "fundamental nature or essential curricular components of its programs in order to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities," the University is required to and committed to providing equal access to the learning experience for students with disabilities.  This is primarily achieved through approval of reasonable academic accommodations, auxiliary aids and services for students. It is the specific responsibility of the University administration and all faculty serving in a teaching capacity to ensure the University's compliance with this policy, and non-discrimination in our learning environments.

For additional information related to accommodation policies and practices, we recommend reviewing the Faculty section of this website.