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Laws Protecting Students with Disabilities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-01-20 (Revised/Updated 2016-03-31) - Federal law mandates that each and every child is to receive an education that is both free and appropriate in an environment that is the least restrictive possible. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss at Disabled World.

Main Document

Quote: "According to Section 504, anyone who experiences a form of impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is considered to be a person with a disability."

Students with disabilities might experience difficulties in school that range from issues with learning, concentration, language, or perhaps issues related to making friends or behavior.

The issues some students with disabilities might experience could be due to one or more of a number of things such as learning disorders or disabilities, emotional issues, physical disabilities, psychiatric disorders or disabilities, or behavioral issues. Students with disabilities are commonly entitled to receive services or accommodations through public schools.

Federal law mandates that each and every child is to receive an education that is both free and appropriate in an environment that is the least restrictive possible. In order to support the ability of students with disabilities to learn in school, there are three federal laws that apply specifically to students with disabilities.

These laws include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The states in America have various criteria related to the eligibility of students with disabilities, the services that are available to them, as well as the procedures involved for implementation of these laws. Parents of students with disabilities need to be aware of these laws, as well as the regulations related to them, for the specific area in which they live.

Three Federal Laws and Students with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal law governing special education services for children in America. For a student with disabilities to be eligible for special education services they must experience one of the following:

  • Autism
  • Mental retardation
  • Physical disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • 'Other' health impairments
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Vision and hearing impairments

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is a civil rights statute requiring every school to pursue a policy of nondiscrimination where students with disabilities are concerned, as well as providing them with reasonable accommodations. Section 504 covers every activity and program, whether it is public or private, that receives any level of federal funding. 'Reasonable accommodations,' may include - yet are not limited to, things such as seating that is in front of classrooms, testing that is not timed, modifications to homework, or provision of services the student needs.

Section 504 specifically states, "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, 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." Under Section 504, a free and appropriate public education consists of the provision of either regular or special education as well as related aids and services that are designed to meet a student's individual educational needs adequately as the needs of non-disabled students are met.

Usually, students with disabilities who are covered under Section 504 either experience forms of disabilities that are less-severe than ones covered under IDEA, or experience forms of disabilities that do not fit within the eligibility categories defined by IDEA. According to Section 504, anyone who experiences a form of impairment that substantially limits a major life activity is considered to be a person with a disability. Both social development and learning are included in the list of major life activities under Section 504.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires every educational institution other than ones that are operated by religious organizations to meet the needs of students who experience forms of disabilities. The ADA prohibits educational institutions from denying educational services, activities, or programs to students with disabilities, as well as prohibiting discrimination against any student who experiences a form of disability.

Evaluation of Your Child and Services

So why are these laws so important? As a parent, you can request an evaluation for you child in order to determine their needs for services and special education. The evaluation of your child might include things such as educational testing, a psychological evaluation, occupational therapy assessment, speech and language evaluation, and behavioral analysis. There are some steps a parent needs to pursue for their child with disabilities if they want special education and related services.

It is important for a parent to meet with their child's teacher and to share any concerns they may have. Request an evaluation by the school's child study team, and know that you can also request an independent professional's evaluation. Submit your requests in writing (keep a copy for yourself) for evaluations and services, and always date your requests. Make sure you keep careful records (you never know when they will come in handy), including any observations that are reported by your child's teacher, any notes, letters, reports and so forth between home and school.

The results of your child's evaluation will determine their eligibility to receive a number of different services. In following with the evaluation, your child's Individual Education Program (IEP) will be developed. There are various categories of services involved through a child's IEP. Some examples of these categories include:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Provision of a classroom aide
  • Speech and Language Therapy

As a parent, you will not determine whether or not your child is eligible for services under the law. You are; however, entitled to participate in the development of your child's IEP. It is also important to note that the findings of the school's evaluation team are not final - you have the right to appeal their determination and conclusion. Your child's school is required to give you information about how to appeal as well.

Things You Can Do as a Parent

Children who have special needs are entitled to rights and services in their schools in accordance with both federal and state laws. Parents are always their child's best advocate, need to be proactive, and take the steps that are necessary steps to ensure their child receives the appropriate services they need. The process may be somewhat confusing, or even intimidating for parents - what follows are some things you can do as a parent.

  • You can request copies of your child's school district Section 504 plan, something that is particularly important if the school refuses services to your child.
  • You can contact a United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights Regional Office for help if your child's school district does not respond to your request.
  • You may find it necessary to obtain the services of your own attorney if you decide to appeal the school's decision.

Should your child's school district refuse services to your child under Section 504 or IDEA or both - you might decide to challenge the school's decision through a, 'due process hearing,' a legal hearing where you and your child have an advocate to help with your views and concerns.

Related Information:

  1. Disability, Mobility Impairments and Students with Disabilities - Students with disabilities may experience a range of different mobility impairments that might require accommodations in school or university settings. The mobility impairments can range from ones related to a person's stamina to ones associated with paralysis.
  2. Education, Schools and Students with Neurological Impairments - College, high school, and grade school students have the potential to experience a variety of forms of neurological disorders that may affect their academic functioning while they are in school.
  3. Guidance on Rights of Students With Disabilities When Educational Institutions Use Technology - Department of Education Issues Guidance on Rights of Students With Disabilities When Educational Institutions Use Technology.

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