Section 504, the ADA, and Public Schools

Section 504, the ADA, and Public Schools
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Section 504, the ADA, and public schools are three different pieces of legislation that have as their common theme serving students with disabilities. Each of these laws has its own set of criteria for what constitutes a disability and how it may affect one’s ability to participate in educational settings. While the public school setting is the paradigmatic environment in which students with disabilities are expected to participate, how this should be done and what accommodations and modifications are necessary on the part of educators remain issues of contention. Section 504 is a broad statute that exempts individuals with disabilities from discrimination in federally-funded programs and activities. The ADA helps to ensure these rights by creating a series of guidelines that must be followed by public entities when providing services and access.

Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. This means that public schools and schools that receive federal funding are the most affected by Section 504.

What is Section 504?

Section 504 is a federal civil rights law that prohibits individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. This means that public schools and schools that receive federal funding are the most affected by Section 504. Section 504 is broadly worded and gives broad discretion to educational entities regarding how to implement its provisions. Specifically, Section 504 prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in any program or activity conducted by a recipient of federal financial assistance if that program or activity is directly related to the recipient’s obligation to carry out some federally-directed function.

What is the ADA?

The ADA is a federal civil rights law that requires public entities and state and local government agencies to ensure equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state, and local services and transportation. In addition, the ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all public accommodations, such as hotels, physicians’ offices, and schools. The term public accommodation is defined broadly to include all entities with “actual or constructive control over a place of public accommodation. This includes private entities that lease public property.” Finally, the ADA also requires that telecommunications services, telephone companies, and public transportation must provide individuals with disabilities access to their services and programs.

Eligibility for Section 504 and ADA Services and Protection:

Section 504 provides protection from discrimination to individuals with disabilities who participate in federally-funded programs or activities if they are in a rehabilitation program, received vocational rehabilitation services, and are employed by or participate in an educational or extracurricular activity. The general rule is that all students receiving assistance under IDEA must be protected under Section 504 and can not be subjected to discrimination. This includes students who receive some of their instruction and/or services outside of school through private, local, state, or federal agencies. This is also true for students attending programs that are part of residential treatment facilities as well as day programs.

The ADA also provides protection from discrimination to individuals who have a disability that substantially limits a major life activity. These disabilities must, by their nature, be permanent in that they “continue indefinitely until death” and are “not transitory or remitting.” Examples include a person who is paralyzed and has not been able to walk since the accident or a person who is blind and who, therefore, cannot see. These individuals can claim ADA protection regardless of age.

The Definition of Disability Under the IDEA:

IDEA regulations define the term “disability” as follows: “For purposes of Part B, a disability is a condition of mental or physical impairment, whether congenital or acquired by accident or injury, which results in impairment in one or more major life activities. This definition also includes persons who have a record of such an impairment and individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment.” The term major life activities refer to functions that are of importance both to daily life and to independent living.

The Definition of Disability Under Section 504 and the ADA:

Similar to the definition of disability under the IDEA, Section 504 and the ADA define impairment as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” In addition, Section 504 and the ADA prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Under Section 504 and the ADA, “substantially limits” means an impairment that “substantially impairs” major life activities. The determination of whether an impairment substantially limits major life activities involves a two-step process: First, a finding must be made as to whether the individual has a physical or mental impairment; and second, it must be determined if the impairment causes the individual to have difficulty in performing one or more major life activities.

Conclusion:

In short, Section 504 and the ADA are federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance. Once an individual is found to have a disability under the ADA or Section 504, they will receive equal access to programs, services, and activities as all other individuals in similar circumstances. This means that programs must be compliant with the ADA and Section 504 to ensure equal access.

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