Democrats Unveil Legislation to Expand Access to Higher Ed for Students With Disabilities

WASHINGTON – TODAY, Representative Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) joined Ranking Member Bobby Scott (VA-03), Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development Ranking Member Susan Davis (CA-53), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), and Representatives James Langevin (RI-02) and Jared Huffman (CA-02) to introduce the Improving Access to Higher Education Act. This bill would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) to improve college access and completion for students with disabilities. This legislation is part of House Democrats’ #AimHigher initiative. Democrats want every American to have access to a meaningful degree that costs less money and leads to a good-paying job.

“This first of its kind legislation, takes a comprehensive approach to providing students and institutions with improved training, greater resources, and expanded services—bringing us one step closer to ensuring all Americans have the opportunity to earn a degree, find a job, and achieve the American Dream,” said Rep. DeSaulnier. “I am honored to join Ranking Member Scott and my colleagues in spearheading this important effort.”

The Improving Access to Higher Education Act is the first-ever comprehensive legislation that specifically addresses the needs of students with disabilities in higher education.

Since the passing of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – federal law has been clear that individuals with disabilities must have equitable access to education,” said Ranking Member Scott. “Thanks to the IDEA and the ADA, we have more students with disabilities graduating from high school than ever before. Students in K-12 receive accommodations and individualized supports to help them access the curriculum and receive a meaningful educational benefit, but those accommodations are not guaranteed in higher education. This bill will ensure the HEA is living up to the promise of the ADA and allowing all students to have equal access to higher education so they can fully participate in society.”

In 2005, just 46 percent of students with disabilities who graduated from high school enrolled in postsecondary education, with only 40 percent of those students going on to finish a degree or receive a work certificate within eight years. For students with disabilities who enroll in a four-year institution, odds of completing a degree fall to just 34 percent.

“Students with disabilities already face tremendous challenges inside and outside of the classroom, but gaining access to a quality postsecondary education shouldn’t be one of them,” Rep. Langevin said. This bill will provide students with disabilities greater educational opportunities in preparation for a bright future in the workforce. The doors to higher education should be open for all students, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in leading a bill that will foster more inclusive curricula and learning environments.”

“Every student has the right to a quality education,” said Rep. Huffman. “For students with disabilities in college, a quality education means providing an environment that fosters academic growth and gives them the individualized tools that they need to succeed. Unfortunately, college administrators and faculty face many challenges in providing these essential accommodations and instructional supports. The Improving Access to Higher Education Act will help level the playing field for students with disabilities, allowing every student to access the education and skills needed to live a meaningful and independent life.”

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, a longtime advocate for Americans with disabilities, was a co-lead on the bill.

“I thank Reps. DeSaulnier, Scott, Langevin, and Huffman for introducing the Improving Access to Higher Education Act to make higher education more accessible for students with differing abilities,” said Whip Hoyer. “As the lead House sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I am strongly committed to ensuring that all of our people can live up to their full potential. This bill will help more of our students do so by addressing affordability, accessibility, and completion of higher education degrees that will prepare them for well-paying jobs and opportunities.”

Organizations supporting the Improving Access to Higher Education Act: Teacher Education Division of CEC, Association of University Centers on Disability, American Foundation for the Blind, Higher Education Consortium for Special Education, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Congress, The Arc, National Association of State Directors of Special Education, National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, Association of People Supporting EmploymentFirst, National Disability Rights Network, Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination, The Advocacy Institute, Council for Exceptional Children

BILL TEXT: Improving Access to Higher Education Act

FACT SHEET: Improving Access to Higher Education Act

SECTION-BY-SECTION: Improving Access to Higher Education Act

Press Contact

Kiara Pesante (Scott), 202-226-0853
Aimee Wall (DeSaulnier), 202- 225-2095
Anita Baffoni (Langevin), 401-732-9400
Alexa Shaffer (Huffman), 202-225-5161
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