Disability Laws

There are a number of federal laws that protect individuals with disabilities including the ADA, ADAAA, and the IDEA, the latter which ensures children with disabilities get a free public education based on needs.  Section 504 of the IDEA is probably the most known portion of the law. 

Americans with Disability Act (ADA)  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in areas including employment, schools, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications and access to state and local government services. The ADA is divided into five titles (or sections) that relate to these different areas of public life.

The ADA gives protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects individuals on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation and other characteristics. ADA disabilities include both mental and physical medical conditions.

American Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)  The ADA became law in 1990. In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was signed into law and became effective on January 1, 2009. The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The ADA does not contain specific special education rules or requirements. The IDEA, below, addresses those educational issues in detail. However, the ADA will definitely have an impact on education. Some of the ways are outlined below. The ADA works in concert with other state and federal laws affecting the education of students with disabilities. In some instances there will be duplicate coverage and an individual situation will be covered under more than one law, such as IDEA. When this happens, whichever law or portion of a law provides the greatest protection for the individual with a disability will prevail.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that ensures children with disabilities nationwide, from birth to age 21, a free public education tailored to their specific needs. IDEA is composed of six elements: Individualized Education Program (IEP); Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE); Least Restrictive Environment (LRE); Appropriate Evaluation; Parent and Teacher Participation; and Procedural Safeguards. IDEA addresses educational issues in great detail and includes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. 

Disabilities Under Section 504 The document in the link below was developed by the NJ Department of Education, but IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, applies to everyone indicated in the document, not just those in NJ. There are two requirements to get a 504 plan: a child has any disability under 504 and it must interfere with the child’s ability to learn in a general education classroom.  The 504 definition of disability is broader than the IDEA definition.  A 504 plan  is often used in schools to cover students with disabilities who are not covered under an IEP, Individualized Education Plan, a legal contract.        Click here for IDEA, Section 504 document

Section 504 and IDEA Differences and Similarities (

504, IDEA & IEPs: I know what my child needs to be successful in school, but what are these numbers and letters all about? by Alfred C. Tagliabue, M. Ed.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) To qualify for special education services, a student must meet two criteria–formal diagnosis with a disability defined under the IDEA (see above) and determination by the school that the student needs special education services to learn the general education curriculum.  Under an IEP, the law requires placement in the least restrictive environment, which means either in a general classroom with services and accommodations  or in a special education class. An IEP ends with the child’s graduation, and a transition plan is required to be developed by the IEP team.       Click here for IEP Information

Archived: Guide to the Individualized Education Program

For More Information

For more info on IDEA, see U.S. Department of Education website

For more info on ADA see U.S. Department of Education website

Disability Laws, Regulations, and Guidance |

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