The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) act of 1990 offers protection to individuals with disabilities all over the United States, most especially for employment, schooling, and services in public and even state facilities. It was once amended in 2009. This law outlines the standards that federal institutions, private businesses, and even school programs must uphold in order to employ and/or serve individuals with disabilities.
Facilities and buildings are mandated to be adjusted in order to accommodate people with disabilities. These include removal of physical barriers, wider toilet stalls, installation of grab bars, and even sign language instructions. Modifications like these are intended to make the use as easy and safe as possible even for individuals with disabilities – just like how nondisabled persons use them seamlessly everyday.
The academic or educational system in the United States is not exempt from needing to be ADA compliant. There are thousands of kids across the country who have disabilities and should therefore be catered to with proper support and guidance.
The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible to eliminate discrimination against all students with disabilities, and protect their rights in the programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the US Department of Education. These include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies.
Similarly, the OCR enforces Section 504 (the amended Rehabilitation Act of 1973) by requiring schools in each school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each qualified student with a disability who is in the jurisdiction of that school district. The student may receive this regardless of the nature or severity of their disability. The FAPE provision includes regular or special education, as well as related aids and services, that are especially designed to meet the student’s academic needs as adequately as the non-disabled students.
By default, the academic system is not designed to cater to disabled students. Their rights and needs are ensured by three laws and programs which we will outline below.
3 Things to Know About ADA in the Academic Setting
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA is responsible for the FAPE programs across academic institutions. Emphasis is given to special education programs and related services to meet the specific needs of each child and their disability. IDEA likewise ensures the protection of disabled children and their parents. But first and foremost it is a grant program – therefore, it assists states, local governments, academic, and federal agencies to provide for the education of disabled children. Early intervention services are funded and set in place even for infants and toddlers.
- Section 504 or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 actually outlines the definition of ‘disability’. Individuals with disabilities are those who have a physical or mental impairment, which substantially limits at least one major life activity. These include records of such impairments or being regarded as having such an impairment. These impairments include limited walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, and performing manual tasks. Students with disabilities will manifest at least one of these during their early years. It is definitely best to receive academic aid and pursue enrollment in a specialized school program. This program includes, of course, teacher/s who can properly cater to their needs so that the student can pursue academic and even recreational activities without falling behind of their nondisabled peers. Note that Section 504 applies to public entities and schools (with some applications to private sector entities), hence the title free appropriate public education or FAPE.
- Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Last 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. It was actually intended to fill the gaps left in Section 504 with regards to people with disabilities and their needs. The ADA covers private elementary and secondary schools as places of “public accommodation” – meaning, these schools must be physically accessible to students and persons with disabilities. It is required to be ADA compliant, otherwise, the institution will face violation charges against the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. However, the difference between Section 504 and Title II of the ADA is that the schools are not required to provide FAPE or develop the IEP for students with disabilities. What the ADA covers instead is that modifications are made in public spaces and services in order to accommodate people with disabilities. These modifications include larger maneuver spaces to accommodate those in wheelchairs, well-constructed toilet stalls (with adequate space and grab bars to hold on to), even installing water closets.
FAPE applies to primary and secondary education, which is great news because disabled students can receive a specialized and free education until high school. Education can be expensive so it is a big burden off the parents’ shoulders to receive free education for their disabled child.
However, Section 504 also includes that colleges and universities are not required to identify students with disabilities. This means that it is the students’ responsibility to make their condition known and seek out assistance within that academic institution. The school’s responsibility lies in informing all applicants and students about the availability of auxiliary aids, services, and academic adjustments that can be made available to those with disabilities.
In the past few decades, people with disabilities often face discrimination. There is a lack of attention to their needs and their care – which are often different from those with no disabilities. That is why these federal laws and academic programs are so important.
In any case wherein the institution or business does not uphold the standards as listed above, it is up to the student, their family, and civil society to assert their rights. It is duly protected by law that these institutions adopt the necessary programs and make the changes to fully accommodate students with disabilities. They are just as valuable to our community as nondisabled students so they should be looked after throughout their educational years – from elementary to high school and even beyond.