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Three federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities, which can include people with learning and attention issues. These laws are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Find out which laws do what.

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At a Glance: Which Laws Do What

Three federal laws protect the rights of individuals with disabilities, which can include people with learning and attention issues. Here’s what these laws do.

IDEA refers to the Individuals with Disabilites Education Act
It is a federal law that requires schools to provide special education and related services to kids with disabilities who require them

ADA refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act
It is a civil rights law that protects qualified individuals with disabilities

Section 504 refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability

IDEA provides:
Legal rights for people with disabilities, which may include accommodations
Special education and related services (such as speech therapy or counseling) that meet the individual needs of students
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) for eligible students
A requirement that public schools identify and evaluate, at no cost to parents, kids suspected of having a learning disability
Education funding for schools
A requirement that schools give prior written notice before making changes to students’ services
A “stay put” provision, which keeps students’ services in place while parents and schools resolve IEP disagreements
A free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) (usually a general education classroom) for kids with disabilities
Procedural safeguards to protect the student’s rights, spelling out what the schools can and can’t do when evaluating and providing special education and related services
Due process for resolving disagreements between parents and schools

ADA provides:
Legal rights for people with disabilities, which may include accommodations
Freedom from discrimination in the workplace (with the exception of workplaces with fewer than 15 employees)
Freedom from discrimination at private schools (including colleges and universities) that recieve federal funding

504 provides:
Legal rights for people with disabilities, which may include accommodations
A free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) (usually a general education classroom) for kids with disabilities
Procedural safeguards to protect the student’s rights, spelling out what the schools can and can’t do when evaluating and providing special education and related services
Freedom from discrimination at private schools (including colleges and universities) that recieve federal funding
A 504 plan for eligible students
Graphic of At a Glance: Which Laws Do What
Graphic of At a Glance: Which Laws Do What

The legal terminology around learning and attention issues can be tricky. Get clear-cut explanations of terms like least restrictive environment, due process and procedural safeguards, and learn more about IDEA, Section 504 and ADA.

About the Author

Understood Team

The Understood Team

The Understood team is composed of passionate writers, editors and community moderators, many of whom have children with learning and attention issues.

More by this author

Reviewed by Patricia H. Latham, J.D. Jan 22, 2014 Jan 22, 2014

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