Rights for children vs. rights for adults with disabilities

Diane Adreon, M.A.

Children with disabilities are entitled to receive a “free and appropriate public education (FAPE),” but what about adults? As many parents find out, sometimes late in the game, there are major differences between the services their child (more or less automatically) received during the K-12 school years, versus what can be expected in adult. In particular, the need to more actively seek out services, often from several different agencies and entities.

Many students with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. IDEA and Section 504 both specify that school districts must provide FAPE to each qualified individual with a disability. In addition, both allow for the provision of accommodations and special services for students with disabilities so that they may participate in and benefit from public education programs and activities

Families are frequently surprised to learn that individuals with disabilities are not protected under IDEA once they graduate or age out of the school system. That is, the services and accommodations they received in high school do not automatically carry over to the college or postsecondarysetting.

Adults with disabilities do receive some protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, however. ADA is a federal law that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities primarily by eliminating barriers to their participation in many aspects of living and working (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005b). The intent of the law is to provide equal access to opportunities for all citizens of the United States. Thus, it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and offers them protection similar to that given to women and minorities through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In order to be protected under ADA, an individual must be disabled relative to the general population. More specifically, the ADA statutes define disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment” (ADA, as cited in Gorgan & Keiser, 1998, p. 6).

One of the major questions in determining whether one is “disabled” involves defining what constitutes a “substantial limitation.” According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the limitation must comprise a significant restriction in comparison to the abilities of the average person. To further clarify, Gorgan and Keiser (1998) suggest that if the individual is able to successfully compensate without accommodations, he or she may not meet the eligibility criteria pertaining to “substantial impairment.”

Implications for Postsecondary Settings
In postsecondary settings, the ADA guarantees that individuals who are qualified for educational programs are not denied access due to their disability (Gordon & Keiser, 1998). However, as mentioned, services are by no means automatic. Students must self-identify and find out from the Office for Students with Disabilities what documentation of their disability the institution requires. Usually, documentation must be fairly recent and written by a qualified individual, such as a psychologist or other related professional. Unlike the provisions of IDEA, the responsibility to provide current and comprehensive documentation, as well as the requirement to pay incurred expenses involved in obtaining such documentation, lies with the student and his or her family (McGuire, 1998).

The job of the Office for Students with Disabilities within postsecondary institutions is (a) to determine whether a student is eligible for protection under the ADA, (b) to analyze the documentation to determine that it adequately supports the claim of a disability, and (c) determining reasonable accommodations on a case-by-case basis (McGuire, 1998).

Commonly provided accommodations include preferential seating, tape recording of lectures, note-takers, extra time for exams, and individually administered exams (AHEAD, n.d.). Many students with high-functioning autism require adaptations that are greater than what can be provided in a particular setting, often due to cost and lack of resources. Students should discuss their specific needs and necessary accommodations with the college to determine which services and supports can be provided in a given setting (Fertel, 2005a; Gordon & Keiser, 1998). In some instances parents may find it necessary to supplement the services provided by the Office for Students with Disabilities. For other students, families may want to explore postsecondary institutions that provide more extensive supports for students with disabilities than the “average” institution. These many include colleges that are geared specifically towards students with learning disabilities or wrap-around support services such as those provided by the College Living Experience (www.clenic.net), the College Internship Program at the Brevard Center (www.brevardcenter.org), or Gersh College (www.gershacademy.org).

Association on Higher Education and Disability. (n.d.). Section 504: The law and its impact on postsecondary education.[Brochure]. (Available from Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), 107 Commerce Center Drive, Suite 204, Huntersville, NC 28078). Huntersville, NC: Author.

Fertel, L. (2005a). College and AS: Differences in laws between high school and college. In D. Adreon (Ed.), Florida Asperger Syndrome Times (Fall 2005) (p. 11). (Available from University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, 5665 Ponce de Leon Blvd., P.O. Box 248768, Coral Gables, FL 33124). Miami: UM/NSU CARD.

Fertel, L. (2005b). Office for Students with Disabilities: Pointers for parents. In D. Adreon (Ed.), Florida Asperger Syndrome Times (Fall 2005) (p.12). Available from University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities, 5665 Ponce de Leon Blvd., P.O. Box 248768, Coral Gables, FL 33124). Miami: UM/NSU CARD.

Associate Director University of Miami/Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities and co-author of Asperger Syndrome and Adolescence: Practical Solutions for School Success

Courtesy of AAPC

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