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ADA, IDEA, and Equal Rights for the Disabled

Confused About Overlapping Protections? We Can Help Sort It Out

Puzzled about the overlapping protections for disabled students provided by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disablities Education Act (IDEA)

NEA special education expert Patti Ralabate has developed a fact sheet that can help. In a nutshell, she says, ADA applies to all ages, including postsecondary students, and guarantees students with disabilities access to the same education as non-disabled students, along with "reasonable" accommodations to make sure they can take advantage of that education. But IDEA does more for the students it covers. It requires schools to give them an appropriate education designed specifically for them.

A 2007 report from the National Council on Disabilities concluded that "the education gap between people with disabilities and people without disabilities is shrinking" and added, "though variable in quantity and quality, educational supports and services for students with disabilites are now available at most of the nation's 3,000 post-secondary institutions."

The report said "the most significant improvements [because of ADA] appear to have occurred in telecommunications, transportation, and access to public accommodations."

Read Ralabate's fact sheet, the National Council report, and more on the history and impact of ADA.

It's a Universal Issue

Meanwhile, disabled individuals, including students, are winning international recognition of their equal rights as the new United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities moves closer to ratification. The Convention does not create any new rights, but it does specifically prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in all sectors of life.

The Convention affirms:

  • equality of rights for people with disabilities
  • the principle of non-discrimination and equal recognition in law
  • the right to liberty and security
  • the right to personal mobility and an independent life
  • the rights to health, work, education, and participation in political and cultural life.

More than 120 countries have signed the treaty and, as of press time, 18 had ratified it, making it binding law in their territories. The treaty will take effect when 20 countries have ratified it. The United States has not signed. NEA has urged the President to sign and the Senate to ratify the treaty.

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