When you learn about your child's special needs, you may ask yourself, "How can I help my child get the services and supports he or she needs?" The best place to begin is within your community and state. Laws have been passed to help you get the supports and services your child may need. It is important for you to know your rights and responsibilities under the law.
All states get federal money under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, also known as IDEA, and must provide a free appropriate public education to all eligible children with disabilities. No child can be found eligible for special education until an evaluation has been done. Your state and local school district are responsible for evaluating your child. You may need to ask for an evaluation.
Early Intervention Services-|
include any supports or services an infant or toddler may need that will help his or her development.
Children from ages birth to 3 years may be eligible for early intervention services. Beginning at age 3, children may be eligible for a free appropriate public education.
The IDEA provides support for special education and related services to children in all kinds of settingschildcare, preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high schools. Special education is a way for your child to have the supports and services he or she needs in order to learn. Special education is not a "place" but a way for your child to be educated, as much as possible, with children who do not have disabilities. You can get more information about the IDEA from Parent Training and Information (PTI) centers and from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (see appendix B).
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Section 504 applies to all programs and activities that get federal money, including local school districts and Head Start programs. School districts that get federal money must provide a free appropriate public education to children with disabilities.
Some children with disabilities who are not eligible for special education programs and related services under the IDEA may be eligible for services under Section 504. Your school district must also make sure that its programs are physically accessible to children with disabilities. If your school district provides after-school-care programs for students, those programs must also be available for students with disabilities.
Section 504 provides legal rights for children with disabilities and their parents. Many states and local school districts also offer mediation services which may be helpful in settling disagreements about whether your child is eligible for services and the kind of services your child should get. Your school system should have a specific person on staff who knows about Section 504 and who can help you with your questions and concerns. You may also want to contact the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights' (OCR) office that services your state. PTIs may also be a good source of information. A list of OCR offices and PTIs is included in appendix B.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is another very important law for people with disabilities and their families. It prohibits discrimination in:
The goal of the ADA is to remove the barriers that deny individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to share in and contribute in American life. The law is about participation and access to the kind of opportunities that persons without disabilities enjoy. For example, under the ADA, restaurants, theaters, childcare centers, and other community resources cannot refuse to serve your child or family solely because your child or a family member has a disability. The ADA also applies to states and local school districts.
There are many booklets and other materials to help families understand their rights under the ADA. The U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Line and the PTIs in your state are good places to help. (See appendix B, sections on hotlines and information lines, and PTIs.) You can also get information about education programs covered by ADA from OCR.
For more information and training on the IDEA, Section 504, and ADA, contact the Parent Training and Information (PTI) center in your state. (See appendix B for contact information.) PTIs are centers run by parents. They provide education and training to all parents on their rights under these laws. Parents and families have worked hard to make this happen. They wanted their children to learn as much as possible and they wanted their children to be happy in their neighborhoods with their friends and families.
As a parent, it is important to make sure that your child's rights are being met under the IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the ADA. Learn as much as you can about your rights and the rights of your child. Don't feel shy about asking for these services or speaking out if you have been refused access to community resources. Your child, your family, and you will benefit.