The purpose of this paper is to provide educators and administrators in higher education with a greater understanding of how the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (Public Law 101–336) may affect institutions of higher education and to suggest ways that occupational therapists can assist institutions of higher education to comply with the ADA. When educators attempt to comply with the ADA in systems of higher education, the complexity of universities calls for a model reflective of that complexity. The systems approach to higher education, a model based on the general systems theory, is suggested as such a model. The three essential components of the model – input (i.e., applicants to a university), throughput (i.e., enrolled university student), and output (i.e., the student being graduated) – are acted on by many subsystems of the university. Some of those likely to be affected are application procedures, transportation, housing, dining facilities, and curricula. In planning ways to comply with the ADA, educators in higher education may find that many of these subsystems are required to adapt and make reasonable accommodations for the student with a disability. The model can be used to help identify those subsystems that will be affected by the law and to facilitate planning to comply with the law.
Although occupational therapists most often work with persons to help them adapt to change in their lives, they can also work in systems of higher education and help the systems to plan and implement programs related to the ADA. The most effective programs are usually those that are well planned and designed from a holistic perspective, rather than those that are developed as a reaction to a specific situation or incident, that is, programs that are proactive rather than reactive. By using the systems approach to higher education, occupational therapists can focus on those components and subsystems within a university that may be affected by the ADA and meet the individual needs of a university.