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Transition Handbook

Disability Laws

The chart below shows similarities and differences among the laws that affect students with disabilities. Secondary schools must comply with the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA-1997), while postsecondary institutions such as colleges and universities must comply with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Because they are very different laws, students and parents are advised to familiarize themselves with the differences.

Comparison Between IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA *
  IDEA Sect 504 ADA
Mission To provide a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment. To establish a "level playing field" and prevent discrimination based on a disability. Strengthens Section 504 and extends coverage to employment, private institutions and other previously unnamed agencies and organizations.
Applies To All public schools, pre-kindergarten to 12th grade or age 21 if enrolled in a public secondary program. All institutions and programs receivingfederal financial assistance. Includes private institutions where studentsreceive federal financial assistance (i.e., colleges and universities receiving federal aid). Public and private education, employment, transportation, accommodations and telecommunications, regardless of whether there is federal funding (i.e., all colleges anduniversities).
Covers Those who have educational disabilities that require specialeducation services to age 21 or until graduation. All qualified persons with disabilitiesregardless of whether they received services in elementary or secondaryschool. A person is "otherwise qualified" if s/he is able to meet the requisite academic and technical standards, with or without accommodations. All qualified persons with disabilities and people without disabilities who are discriminated against because of their relationship with a person with a disability.
Defined As Disabilities covered are defined in the Act and are too numerous to list here. Refer to the Act. No specific list of disabilities. The definition of a person with a disability is a person with a physical or mental impairment that:
  • - Substantially limits one of more major life activities
  • - Has a record of the disability
  • - Is regarded as having thedisability
Same criteria as Section 504. HIV status, contagious and non-contagious diseases are also defined as disabilities.
ID/Process Responsibility of the school. No expense to the parent or the student. Transfer of parental rights to the student at age 18. Responsibility of the student to self-identify to the institution and provide appropriate documentation of disability. Same as Section 504

Adapted from: Brinckerhoff, L.C., Shaw, S.F., and McGuire, J.M., (1993). Promoting postsecondary opportunities for students with learning disabilities, 44-45. Reprinted with permission.

* Note: ADA Amendments Act (2008) has no impact on evaluation of functional impact and identification of appropriate accommodations in postsecondary ed.

There is sometimes confusion on what constitutes a "qualified individual". A qualified individual with respect to educational opportunities is one who, with or without appropriate accommodations, meets the academic and technical standards required for admission to or participation in an education program or activity.

Comparison of Responsibilities Under P.L. 94-142 Amendments and Section 504 and ADA
Issue  Responsibility at Secondary Level   Responsibility at Postsecondary Level 
Identification School Student
Assessment School Student
Programming School/Parent Student/Institution
Advocacy School/Parent Student
Decision Making Placement Team Student
Transition Planning Placement Team Student

Brinckerhoff, L. C., Shaw, S. F., and J. M. McGuire, J. M. (1992), "Promoting access, accommodations, and independence for college students with learning disabilities" Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25(7), 417-429. Copyright 1992 by PRO-ED, Inc. Reprinted by permission.