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ADA Compliance in Schools & Education

Before the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people like BraunAbility’s founder, Ralph Braun, had to navigate an inaccessible world. When Ralph attended high school, the needs of disabled students were largely overlooked. At the time, there were no laws requiring buildings to be ADA compliant, so automatic doors, ramps, and elevators were uncommon. Attending a multi-level school building, Ralph was forced to take two years off from school due to a lack of accessibility. Upon his return, Ralph relied on his friends to carry him and his wheelchair up and down the stairs every day.

Thanks to the passing of the ADA in 1990, government funded schools are now required to be ADA compliant, making the days of carrying classmates up and down the stairs a thing of the past.

What Does the Americans with Disabilities Act have to do with Education?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a civil rights act that provides people with disabilities equal access and opportunity in daily life. The act prohibits discrimination against disabled people and allows individuals with disabilities equal access to public spaces, including primary, secondary, and higher education institutions.

What Is the Purpose of the Rehabilitation Act?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibited discrimination based on disability in any programs which received federal funding. In federally-funded schools, this means students cannot be discriminated against based on disability. The Rehabilitation Act also contains Section 504, which requires schools to provide students with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Section 504 allows students who have a disability but do not require special education services to receive accommodations through a 504 plan.

What Does IDEA Mean?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, sometimes referred to as the IDEA, is similar to section 504, however, the IDEA allows disabled students to receive accommodations through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). To qualify for an IEP, a student’s disabilitie(s) must fall under one or more of the 12 categories of disability outlined in the IDEA law. Once a student qualifies for an IEP, they will receive special education services and may receive other specialized services such as speech, occupational, or physical therapy.

What Is the Difference Between an IEP and a 504 Plan?

Both an Individualized Education Plan and a 504 plan provide accommodations to students with disabilities, however, the accommodations and services provided by each plan differ depending on a student’s needs. Qualifying for a 504 plan requires medical documentation or demonstration of a medical diagnosis that impacts learning. Students who qualify for a 504 plan typically only need academic accommodations to demonstrate their knowledge. Students who qualify for IEPs require support beyond academic accommodations. To meet these needs, students and caregivers work with school psychologists to set and assess academic and behavioral goals. These goals are written into an IEP, which allows a student to receive academic accommodations, as well as specialized instruction to meet academic and behavioral goals set in the IEP.

Why Is the ADA Important in Schools?

The ADA, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, and the IDEA all play a significant role in the success of disabled students. Because of these federal laws, students with disabilities can receive an education, as well as any accommodations or additional services they may need to succeed academically. For some students with disabilities, postsecondary education is possible because of the ADA, as it protects college students from discrimination in the admissions process and ensures students working towards a college degree receive appropriate accommodations.

How Does the ADA Law Benefit Students?

The ADA creates an inclusive learning environment for students with and without disabilities. Although disabled students may require special education or academic accommodations, the ADA allows disabled students equal access to programs and services utilized by non-disabled students. This means students with disabilities can participate in elective classes or extracurricular activities alongside non-disabled peers, giving all students a chance to learn from one another and creating an inclusive environment for all.

Accessibility for Both Students & Employees with Disabilities

Disabled students may one day become disabled employees, which is why it’s important to meet ADA compliance standards both in the classroom and beyond. Visit the ADA website to learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its protections for students and employees.

ADA Compliance Checklist for Schools

1. Create accessible entryways and exits

Whether they’re coming in from recess, evacuating for a fire drill, or getting picked up in the carpool line, disabled students will enter and exit a school building multiple times a day. Having accessible entrances and exits with automatic doors and wheelchair accessible ramps will ensure safe entry and exit.

2. Build accessible playgrounds

School-age children will usually participate in recess during the school day, however, a playground with mulch and steps can be inaccessible to children with disabilities. Building an accessible playground for elementary-aged students will allow all children to play together.

3. Provide access to handicap accessible bathrooms

A handicap-accessible bathroom provides wider space for students with mobility aids, and grab rails for mobility and safety needs. Wheelchair accessible bathrooms should have sinks at an appropriate height with the ability for wheelchair users to roll up to and underneath the sink. Installing a wheelchair accessible bathroom is vital to ensuring the safety and comfort of students with disabilities.

4. Design your building with elevators

Multi-level buildings should have elevators so students with disabilities can have equal access to the same areas of a school building as their non-disabled peers.

5. Provide wheelchair accessible busses or transportation

To get to and from school, a student with a mobility aid may require a wheelchair accessible school bus. BraunAbility offers multiple styles of wheelchair lifts for buses. Contact your local mobility dealer to find out more about accessible transportation options for schools.

An ADA compliant learning environment for students with disabilities plays a pivotal role in creating a more accessible future. To learn more about ADA compliance and disability rights, check out our related articles below.

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