Students need access to an appropriate education, as well as the necessary materials, support, and resources to foster educational opportunity.
In the United States, the right to an education for individuals with disabilities is protected by three main federal laws.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which replaced the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, requires that a free appropriate public education is available to eligible children and youth with disabilities.
Under IDEA, early intervention services are available to children through age 2 and special education services are available to children and youth ages 3 through 21.
Section 504 is a federal law, enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to protect the rights of people with disabilities in any program that receives financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). It is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in education on the basis of disability.
Like IDEA, Section 504 requires a free appropriate public education for qualified students with disabilities. Unlike IDEA, Section 504 eligibility does not depend on and does not ensure special education services. This means a child may have a disability and still be protected under Section 504, but not necessarily qualify for services under IDEA.
The ADA is a comprehensive civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability in several aspects of life. The law has broad coverage over disability rights protection.
Title II of the ADA covers public services and programs of state and local governments, which include public schools. §1232 Discrimination states:
Subject to the provisions of this subchapter, no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.
Like Section 504, the ADA does not ensure special education services; however, unlike Section 504, the ADA applies to all activities of state and local governments, regardless of whether they receive federal funding.
As blackboards continue to be replaced with online chat boards and textbooks are replaced with websites and electronic documents, schools must ensure that students with disabilities have full and equal access to digital content.
Students will access digital content in different ways. Students who use assistive technology to access web content, who need captions to understand audio content, and who navigate with a keyboard instead of a mouse, among other tools and techniques, have the same right to educational opportunity. Schools must be sure to make course materials, public websites, and other digital content accessible.