The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 all aim to better education for people with disabilities. Each piece of legislation works differently, depending on the circumstances of the individual's education.

To see a comparison of these three pieces of legislation with regard to education, check out the matrix from DREDF (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund).

Education for Children with Disabilities

The history and development of education programs for children with disabilities in the United States closely parallels the struggle of other minority groups to certify their civil right to participate equally in public education. Getting an education provides the primary preparation for economic and social participation in society.

Children with disabilities' right to equal educational opportunities was established when Congress enacted The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142, later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act - (IDEA) in 1975.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the most important piece of civil rights legislation for children with disabilities ever passed in this country. Prior to its passage in 1975, at least one million children with disabilities in the United States were denied any public education, and at least four million more were segregated from students without disabilities. IDEA is the primary federal law that governs Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs) and the special education process. IDEA guarantees children with disabilities a Free Appropriate Public Education in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 and its implementing regulations were released in August 2006.

Post-Secondary Education and People with Disabilities

Though younger students are covered by the IDEA, they must become familiar with their rights under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when they enter college. Nearly all post-secondary schools are covered under the ADA, as nearly all of them receive federal funding--even schools with religious affiliations.

At this time, students must request their own accommodations, and must do so in a timely manner. Contacting the school's Disability Services Office far in advance of beginning classes is optimal. Before beginning this process, students and their families should educate themselves as to the basics of ADA and 504 with regards to post-secondary education.
A great resource is's Post-Secondary Education and ADA/504 Q&As

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