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From IDEA to ADA: Legal rights & responsibilities change after high school

by Mary Mazzoni on October 21, 2012

When our kids leave special education, they step out of the legal protections of the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act offer legal protections that differ from those to which we’ve grown accustomed.

Let’s take a look at the key differences between these laws and consider ways we can plan for the changes that lie ahead.

Side by side comparison

This handy chart by Stephanie Dawson of Miami University offers an at-a-glance comparison of key provisions of IDEA – ADA – and Section 504.

You’ll probably want to print this one-page grid for easy reference.

Let’s look at  the planning implications of each major difference referenced in the chart.

Need identification

Under IDEA, school districts must identify the needs of students who may require special education.

Under ADA, persons with disabilities must self disclose and document their own disability if they wish to request “reasonable accommodations” from employers or post-secondary programs.

Planning considerations:

Self disclosure is a very personal choice. How can we help our kids understand the nuances of disclosure so they can make informed disclosure choices?

Thankfully, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability/Youth (NCWD/Y) has published a free, comprehensive, user-friendly workbook called 411 on Disability Disclosure. 

You can find the student workbook here – and a companion parent workbook here.

Disability definition

ADA requires that persons requesting “reasonable accommodations” disclose and provide documentation that they:

  • have been diagnosed by a qualified professional with a physical or mental impairment that…
  • substantially limits one or more major life activities (walking, hearing, seeing, speaking, breathing, working, learning, doing manual tasks, caring for self)

Therefore, the person must be able to document both the presence of a disability and the specific “functional limitations” that this disability presents in relation to the job or post-secondary learning.

Planning considerations

If your child plans on post-secondary education or training – contact the disability services office of all the programs your child is considering – during the junior year of high school. Your child should ask for the specific documentation requirements related to his/her disability. This information may also be available on the school’s website.

Most employers and post-secondary programs will require recent documentation by a qualified professional using adult measures – and a statement of functional limitations from the qualified professional.

Eligibility determination

IDEA requires that school districts evaluate a student’s eligibility for special education services based upon the 13 special education disability categories and demonstrated need for specially designed instruction.

Under ADA, the obligation for documentation and the expense of related evaluations are the responsibility of the person who is requesting “reasonable accommodations”.

The 13 special education categories do not apply. Rather, the diagnosis of a medical professional or a qualified professional’s recent diagnosis using the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) is generally required by employers or post-secondary programs. (Again – documentation requirements vary and are set by the employer or post-secondary program).

Planning considerations

Each state has a Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) office that provides vocational counseling and related services to persons with disabilities who have a goal of employment (or post-secondary education/training that leads to employment). The name of the Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) office will vary by state. You can find your local VR agency here - or by speaking to your child’s transition coordinator at school.

Eight months to a year prior to high school graduation, your child should apply to VR and seek advice regarding disability documentation. Often, if updated evaluations are needed, they can be funded through VR for persons who have applied and been determined eligible for VR services.

The decision regarding eligibility for “reasonable accommodations” for a particular job or a particular post-secondary class rests with the employer or post-secondary institution, based upon their published documentation requirements.

Legal requirements

IDEA requires school districts to provide special education students with a free, appropriate public education that meets their unique needs. The individualized plan is documented in the IEP and reviewed by the IEP team at least annually.

ADA does NOT require an individualized education or support plan. There are no IEPs beyond high school.

(If your child applies and is eligible for government-funded programs through developmental disabilities services or vocational rehabilitation services they may have an individual support plan related to that government-funded program. But right now – we’re talking about the ADA responsibilities of employers and post-secondary institutions).

ADA is a civil rights law. It does NOT require anything beyond “reasonable accommodations” that provide “equal access” to the same opportunities as people without disabilities.

ADA does not require modification of the “essential components” of the job or educational program.

Planning considerations

If your child plans to attend a post-secondary education or training program – meet with the disability support staff of all the programs your child is considering. This should be done at least by the junior year. Earlier is often better. Your child should ask about the specific types of “reasonable accommodations” that would be provided by that program for his/her specific disability and functional limitations.

Note – there are postsecondary programs that go beyond ADA requirements for “reasonable accommodations” – providing additional services and special programs for students with disabilities. Typically these “above and beyond ADA” programs involve additional costs which may or may not be covered by various financial aid sources.

It is important that your child choose a post-secondary program based on specific information about the accommodations and support services that will be available. In the last one or two years of high school, students should gain experience using accommodations similar to those available in the post-secondary program of their choice.

In regards to employment, ADA does NOT require a company to modify the “essential requirements of the job” – but rather to provide “reasonable accommodations” that enable the qualified person to do the job. To find out more about “reasonable accommodations” – check out this post.

Again, employers may go above and beyond ADA requirements – by providing opportunities for options such as customized employment. But they are not required to do this by law.

There is often confusion between accommodations and modifications. To clarify the difference between the two, check out Part 2 of our Through the Looking Glass series.

Parent involvement

Under IDEA, parents are integral members of the IEP team.

Under privacy laws such as FERPA and HIPPA, parents cannot access information about their adult child from employers, post-secondary institutions, healthcare providers, financial institutions, or government agencies without explicit prior written permission from their child.

Planning considerations

It is critically important that our kids learn to advocate for themselves. This requires practice over time.

While still in high school, our kids should be active members of their IEP team, and should be requesting accommodations directly from their teachers. In other areas of life, such as health care, our kids must learn over the course of their teen years, to advocate for their own needs.

If you believe that your child will continue to need your advocacy support as an adult, speak with him or her about the need to provide prior written permission.

For more information

Today we’ve focused exclusively on the IDEA-ADA transition. But there are other realities that shift when our kids transition to adult life. Find out more in our 3-part Through the Looking Glass series.

 Your turn

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post.

Got questions? Please – ask away!  Use the comment section below or send me an email using the white envelope near the top of the sidebar.

If you’ve had experience in navigating the transition from IDEA to ADA – please share your insights and wisdom in the comment section below.

It’s important for us to take this transition gradually over time. And let’s remember – other parents and young adults have gone this way ahead of us. If they can do it – so can you! One step at a time.

Did you find this post helpful? Please share it. Thanks!

Photo Credit – David Paul Ohmer on Flickr

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