This information has been gathered for those interested in learning more about disability and how it relates to the student experience at Butler University. Because of the depth of disability-related etiquette and its ever-evolving nature, SDS provides programming to faculty and staff throughout the year, covering a wide range of topics from language to implementation of accommodations to working with students with disabilities to promote equitable access to all on-campus experiences.
We encourage you to explore the various topics and visit our reference websites. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out. We are here for you at email@example.com.
Disability is a fluid aspect of diversity, meaning that it can become an identity for anyone at any point in their life. Disability is defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;” “a record of such an impairment;” or, “being regarded as having such an impairment.” A person can be born with a disability, obtain a disability as a result of a major life event, or gradually obtain one over time. A permanent disability, as defined by the ADA, is a condition that substantially limits an individual for 6 or more months. If the condition and associated symptoms are present for less than 6 months, it may be considered a temporary disability. Temporary disabilities are not covered under the ADA. It is also important to note that individuals may meet the federal definition and identify as disabled at one point in time, then not meet criteria or not identify as disabled at a later point in time.
Disability status is fluid. However, individual diagnoses do not necessarily result in a disability. This is why disability is so nuanced. Two people with the same diagnosis may experience vastly different symptoms. One may identify as having a disability while the other may not, even though they have the exact same diagnosis. One may meet the federal definition of disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act while the other may not.
The language associated with disability can also vary from person to person, some may want to use disability-first language, while others may be more comfortable with person-first language For more information, please see our section on Language. Coping strategies and individual circumstances also contribute to the identity of disability. For more information, please see our section on Intersectionality.
Many of our students at Butler University come forward later in their educational careers because they have reached their threshold for managing their disability independently. It may be that their condition has not substantially limited their education prior to college, but now does.
Following an interactive process of engaging in dialogue and reviewing documentation from a licensed clinician, SDS works to provide individualized services to students who identify as and meet the federal definition of disabled. We pride ourselves at Butler University on honoring individual autonomy while also providing the important, necessary resources to ensure equal access to education and the university experience for disabled students.
There are two primary laws and two secondary laws that apply to disabled students attending Butler University.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
This federal law prohibits organizations and employers from discriminating against someone otherwise qualified on the basis of disability. The law protects anyone with a disability, defined as “people who have a history of, or who are regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” (504 fact sheet). It was the first of its kind and led to the subsequent laws regarding equal access and non-discriminatory practices. This is also where the term “504 plans” originated from. These plans help disabled students access reasonable accommodations that allow for equitable access to education.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990) and Amendment Acts (1998, 2008)
The ADA is the overarching federal law that prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities and guarantees that they are given equal opportunity to employment, the purchase of goods and services, education, and state and local government programs. It is the primary law that impacts our work in Student Disability Services at Butler University. The ADA protects students with disabilities and emphasizes the need for equitable access across campus. It defines the term Disability, as well as diagnoses commonly associated with disability. The ADA regulations, passed in 1991, 1998, and 2008 provide insight on how to implement the ADA, including guidance on physical access (ramps, curb cuts, accessible rooms and bathrooms, etc.), safety requirements (maintenance of accessibility features, etc.), service animals, mobility devices (allowing wheelchairs and scooters, etc.), event ticketing (providing a space when a person cannot or does not utilize a chair, etc.), communication (written content, visual descriptions, Braille, captions, interpreters, or other auxiliary aids), telecommunications (text conversations, transcriptions, etc.) and creating access for other major life activities, such as education. The regulations also provide insight on how to address and investigate complaints.
Fair Housing Act
Because Butler University provides on-campus residence to students, we abide by the Fair Housing Act. This includes students’ access to Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), these animals “provide therapeutic emotional support for individuals with disabilities that affect major life activities.” ESAs are granted to qualified students as a means of assisting the individual in accessing equal opportunities in university housing.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (1998)
This amendment requires that information technology be accessible to people with disabilities. This means that websites, digital written content, commerce platforms, and any digital or web-based materials must be naturally accessible or provide tools to ensure accessibility. Examples of this are the ability to zoom in or enlarge text, change modes from light to dark, have text read aloud, offer descriptions of pictures/videos, provide captioning, etc. Should members of the Butler community have questions regarding digital and online accessibility, the Center for Academic Technology (CAT) is a fantastic resource to learn more about accessible features for digital content and classroom materials. Canvas also offers accessibility reports for all courses posted. SDS and IT can also be of assistance to faculty, staff, and students to ensure their digital, web-based needs are met.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Title III, private universities receiving federal funding abide by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act to provide access to students with disabilities. This means physical access, such as ramps, curb cuts, and elevators; communication access, through captioning, interpreters, visual descriptions, alternative texts, etc.; and accommodations that help students overcome barriers, like extending time limits for students who may need longer to process information than the general population. Student Disability Services oversees the implementation of accommodations for disabled students attending Butler. It is the responsibility of the broader Butler community, faculty and staff, to ensure that accessibility is appropriately offered and maintained, with assistance from SDS staff. This includes providing accessible classroom materials and online resources; providing accessible housing and dining options; making events accessible to physical, sensory, and other access needs; and other things of that nature. SDS assists faculty and staff by providing them with a letter of accommodations and descriptions of implementation for students they are working with each semester. We are also available to discuss specific circumstances, specific accommodations, or general questions and concerns. SDS is a resource for the entire Butler community; please do not hesitate to reach out for assistance.
The language around disability has evolved tremendously over the last half-decade. As people have grown to understand and embrace their disabilities, the greater community has a responsibility to honor individuals’ identities and how they choose to represent themselves. Language is an incredibly important aspect of representation. Below you will find some suggested language and definitions that should be used when referring to aspects of disability. We have chosen only to highlight and focus on affirming language, so if it is not on this list, we ask that you refrain from using it in your daily life.
The definitions below are useful for understanding different language options, but because disability identity is deeply personal, it is recommended to directly ask what language individuals are comfortable with as it relates to their disability and personal experience.
Accessible parking—These are parking spaces located closer to the entrance of a building and are allotted for people with mobility needs. The users must have an issued permit/pass to utilize these spaces.
Accessible restroom/room—These are restroom stalls that have been made larger to accommodate wheelchairs, equipment, additional persons, or just space for a person to move however necessary to utilize the stall. These should be used primarily by those that need it. Non-disabled people should try to utilize other stalls.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)—This diagnosis used to have subcategories of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), but now is universally referred to as ADHD with subcategories. It is one of the most common neurobehavioral disorders. It impacts focus/concentration, impulse control, and motor activity. It is commonly known to impact executive functioning as a whole.
Autism Spectrum Disorder—A neurological disorder. Its symptom onset is often in early childhood; however, diagnosis can occur at any point in life. This is especially true for female-identifying persons. People with Autism often have differences or challenges in communication; restricted and/or repetitive interests; deficits in executive functioning; and concrete, literal thinking. However, Autism is a spectrum, so strengths and needs can vary greatly from person to person. The spectrum of Autism is often identified using levels 1-3; Level 1 indicates minimal intervention or support requested, while level 3 indicates substantial support requested.
Disability—This is defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;” “a record of such an impairment;” or, “being regarded as having such an impairment.”
Identity-first language—Some people prefer to name their disability first, as they feel that it is a part of their identity and can’t or shouldn’t be separated from their personhood. This language puts the disability before the person. For example, some people in the Autism community prefer to be identified as Autistic.
Intellectual Disability/Cognitive Disability—This is generally defined as people who have significant limitations in cognitive functioning, which is often represented as an IQ of 70 or lower. Please use person-first language when referring to people diagnosed with Intellectual or Cognitive disabilities.
Learning Disabilities—This encompasses the following diagnoses: Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, Auditory Processing disorder, Non-verbal Learning disorder, Visual Motor disorder, Language Processing disorder. It is typically most appropriate to use person-first language when referring to people diagnosed with Learning disabilities.
Neurodivergent—This term has evolved from representing Autism Spectrum, to now encompassing Autism, Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and psychiatric disorders like Anxiety and Depression.
Non-disabled person—A person who does not currently identify and/or does not meet criteria as having a disability.
Person-first language—When referring to a person with a disability, some prefer that their disability be acknowledged after their personhood, such as “girl with Dyslexia.” It is typically most appropriate to use person-first language when referring to learning, intellectual, and some medical disabilities.
Person who uses a communication device—This refers to a person who may use visual supports (pictures, words) or alternative augmentative communication devices (iPads, phone apps) to communicate with language. A great example of this is the famous scientist, Stephen Hawking. Communication devices can be “low tech,” which are often laminated pieces of paper or boards with words and pictures, or “high tech,” such as a device that speaks the words out loud using a computer-generated voice. People who utilize communication devices are able to speak, they just utilize non-traditional methods.
Wheelchair user—Someone who uses a wheelchair to move from place to place, either some of the time or all of the time. This term can also describe people who use motorized wheelchairs and/or scooters.
Another thing to note: Avoid the use of language that might assume negative thoughts and feelings about disability. This can lead to an overarching view of disability as a lesser quality of life, and that people with disabilities are meant to be victims and pitied.
Just as some students do not identify as having a disability because their unique symptoms and circumstances don’t rise to the level of disability, other students may not identify as disabled because other personal identities apply more to them. Intersectionality is the term used to describe the various aspects of marginalized identity, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and others. Disability is also an aspect of intersectionality. Some students may feel a deep connection to disability while others may feel disconnected from it, or find that another identity suits them better. Butler University supports student organizations and campus initiatives to empower students to explore and embrace their unique identities, without requiring them to do so. Disability-related student organizations such as SDS sponsored national disability honors society Delta Alpha Pi (DAP), Bulldogs for Universal Design (BUD), and Butler’s Advocate for Autism (A4A) are excellent ways for students to explore and build community around this aspect of intersectionality.
- ADA Knowledge Translation Center. “Guidelines for Writing about People with Disabilities.” ADA National Network, 2018,
- Feder, Jill. “What Is Intersectionality?” com: Empowering Digital Accessibility for Businesses, 24 Sept. 2021.
- Galarza, Rosa. “Intersectionalities.” International Disability Alliance.
- Office of Civil Rights . “The Civil Rights of Students with Hidden Disabilities and Section 504.” US Department of Education, US Department of Education (ED), 10 Jan. 2020.
- Office of Civil Rights. “Your Rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act .” FACT SHEET, June 2006.
- Silverman, Amy. “National Center on Disability and Journalism.” NCDJ, Arizona State University , Aug. 2021.
- “Information about Disabilities.” com, 2023.
- “Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Gov, 5 May 2023.
- “What Are a Public or Private College-University’s Responsibilities to Students with Disabilities?” ADA National Network, Jan. 2023.
- “Types of Learning Disabilities.” Learning Disabilities Association of America.
- “Seven-Learning-Disabilities-Every-Psychology-Professional-Should-Study.” Walden University, Walden University , 15 Apr. 2020.