Demystifying Disability Law

If you’ve ever wondered…

  • “Does my child’s IEP/504 Plan follow them after high school?”
  • “If my child didn’t have an IEP/504 Plan, can they receive accommodations in college or the workplace?”
  • What types of disability accommodations are available in the workplace?

…then this blog is for you.

Here’s the short version:

IEPS and 504 plans do NOT follow students from high school to college and employment. However, ALL individuals with documented and qualifying disabilities are protected from discrimination and entitled to reasonable accommodations in these and other public settings.

Autism in considered a qualified disability. Since the IDEA basically expires upon high school graduation, even students without IEPs and 504 plans may receive accommodations at college and on the job.

Here’s the long version:

When I speak with new families, I am almost always asked a version of these questions. Let’s start with a very basic summary of the laws governing disability:

  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
  • ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).


What is it?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the primary law governing special education services provided to children in K-12 education. It is a federal education law that requires states to provide a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) to all children with disabilities within the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) possible. Children with disabilities are entitled to FAPE and LRE at NO COST to their families.

How does it work?

The disability must be documented through a specified process and must then qualify for services under a proscribed process. Children who qualify for services under the IDEA have Individual Education Plans (IEP) that consist of specific goals developed by a team of specialists in conjunction with families. IEPs may include curriculum modifications which change WHAT a student learns as well as accommodations that impact HOW a student learns.

How is it measured?

Progress toward IEP goals is tracked closely by classroom teachers and other school-based specialists. This progress is conveyed to families through written reports and IEP goals are reviewed and revised annually. The IDEA is an entitlement-based law designed to ensure that students with disabilities have the best possible chance to build the same school-based skills and abilities as their non-disabled classmates.

How long does it last?

The IDEA only applies to education through high school graduation.

Section 504

What is it?

This is a section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any venue receiving Federal funding. This includes public schools, federal employers and contractors, and any educational institution receiving federal funds. Section 504 generally only allow for ACCOMMODATIONS.

How does it work?

The process of qualifying for and receiving services under 504 is different and in some cases easier than the processes in the IDEA. Common school-based accommodations include extended time on tests, shorter homework assignments, preferential seating.


What is it?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law the prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities by ANYONE who provides services to the public including K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and employers. The law covers discrimination against anyone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits daily life.

Where does it apply?

The ADA focuses on creating environments and providing accommodations to provide equal access. It is very broad and far-reaching.

How does it work?

To receive the protections of the ADA an individual must have a documented disability. This disability must be brought to the attention of the school or employer. The ADA requires that REASONABLE accommodations be provided. The ADA does NOT define “reasonable”.

So what?

Try not to get overwhelmed by the acronyms and lingo. At a basic level, these laws and regulations are designed to protect individuals with disabilities in a variety of environments including school and work.

If you’d like to learn more about these and how they impact your family and student, schedule an intro call here!