More than 40 million Americans qualify for coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA almost certainly protects you or someone you know. The ADA went into effect in 1990 and was the result of more than five years of work by legislators, people with disabilities and private citizens. Title II of the ADA applies to public schools. The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education enforces the ADA requirements in public schools.
The ADA covers anyone who has a physical, sensory, cognitive or mental disability of any level of severity. In a school setting, the ADA covers students, parents and employees. The ADA covers academics, extracurricular activities and athletics. The ADA also covers off-campus activities. Title II is the section of the ADA that is most applicable to public schools. Title II says that state and local government services cannot discriminate against individuals because of a disability.
Public school districts must provide a free education, in an integrated setting where possible, to students with disabilities and make accommodations for their individual educational needs. Services provided depending on the student’s disability can include special education or physical therapy. In addition, schools may need to adjust test-taking rules or absence policies to accommodate the needs of a student with a disability. Title II of the ADA also gives students the right not to be harassed or discriminated against because of their disability.
New buildings must be accessible for people with disabilities, such as people with wheelchairs or crutches. The ADA does not require that school districts make building modifications that would create an undue financial burden on the school district or alter programs in a way that would change the fundamental nature of the program to accommodate disabilities. However, if a school district cannot make a building accessible to the disabled, they still must meet their obligation to provide program access to disabled students. School districts in this situation often opt to provide services in a location that is accessible. They may also choose to provide disabled students with direct assistance. For example, if a library is inaccessible, a library worker may bring the books to the student.
If you believe your school district has discriminated against you because of your disability, you may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). File the complaint within 180 days of the incident. The DOJ will review the matter and refer the case for mediation or file a lawsuit on your behalf.
U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Disability Rights Section – NYAV Washington, D.C. 20530 http://www.ada.gov 800-514-0301 (voice) 800-514-0383 (TTY)
Based in New York, Kate Bluest has been writing for various online publications since 2005. She has participated in several writing workshops, including the MIT Writing Workshop. Bluest holds a Bachelor of Science in business administration from SUNY Empire State College.