Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Happy 25th Anniversary to the ADA

We realized we have been blogging for a long time when we sat down to write about the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) upcoming on Sunday, July 26th – and found our post from five years ago, on the occasion of the ADA’s 20th Anniversary.

As we noted then, the ADA was signed into law by President George H. Bush on July 26, 1990, as a latecomer to the legislative initiatives that grew out of the civil rights laws of the 1960’s. For example, the predecessor legislation to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (which took the name we now shorten to IDEA in 1991) first became law 40 years ago as the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Likewise, Section 504, the law that families of school age children may encounter because it also provides services and plans for students with disabilities, is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

The ADA is a much broader law than IDEA or Section 504, but does not provide the depth of services on which school aged students and their parents rely.

 For example:
  • The ADA applies to all individuals, not just school-aged students, as does the IDEA. 
  • The ADA applies to all kinds of settings – workplace, transportation, and all kinds of schools. Section 504 only applies to businesses and other entities that take federal funds and thus generally does not apply to private schools. 
  • Unlike the IDEA (but just like Section 504), the ADA applies to a very broad array of disabilities. The IDEA requires that a student fit within a specified list of disabilities. 
  • However, the ADA only requires accommodations. It does not provide for services or require that students get “FAPE” – a Free, Appropriate, Public Education – as do the IDEA and the parts of Section 504 that apply to school age children. 
It is important to keep in mind that even students who receive services or accommodations under the IDEA or Section 504 are also covered by the ADA. But, because the accommodations it requires are not sufficient for most students, it is generally not used when providing educational or other supports for students with disabilities up through 12th grade. Testing organizations, such as the College Board and the ACT, are covered by the ADA, as are colleges. Students transitioning from high school to higher education or the workplace – where the IDEA and the student-specific sections of 504 no longer apply – should become familiar with the ADA, since that will determine the accommodations to which they may be entitled.

As President Obama noted in remarks earlier this week, “Thanks to the ADA, the places that comprise our shared American life — schools, workplaces, movie theaters, courthouses, buses, baseball stadiums, national parks — they truly belong to everyone.” It's something to be celebrated.

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