IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA: Which laws do what


Three major federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities. Knowing what these laws do helps people who learn and think differently speak up for what they need in school, work, and life. It also helps families know how to support kids who learn and think differently.

Here’s a brief overview of the three laws, and what they provide.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): This education law requires public schools to meet the unique needs of eligible K–12 students with disabilities. Schools do this by providing services.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504): This civil rights law prohibits disability discrimination at schools that get federal funding. Schools meet these requirements by removing barriers to learning.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This civil rights law prohibits disability discrimination by schools, employers, and anyone who offers goods and services to the public.

What these laws provideIDEASection 504ADA
Legal rights for people with disabilitiesXXX
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) for eligible K–12 studentsX  
Special education and related services to meet a student’s unique needsX  
A 504 plan for eligible K–12 students X 
Accommodations (like audiobooks or extra time) for K–12 studentsXX 
Accommodations for college students X 
Reasonable accommodations in workplaces (with 15 or more employees)  X
A requirement that public schools find and evaluate — at no cost to families — kids who may have a disabilityX  
Education funding for schoolsX  
A free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for studentsXX 
Procedural safeguards that protect families’ rights (like access to school records)XX 
Due process (or an impartial hearing) for resolving disputes between families and schoolsXX 
Freedom from discrimination at private schools (including colleges and universities) that get federal funding XX
Freedom from discrimination in workplaces (with 15 or more employees)  X
Access to places that offer goods and services to the public, like restaurants and websites  X

These are the three major laws that protect people with disabilities. Who makes sure these laws are followed? Find out how these laws are enforced in schools.

    Key takeaways

    • IDEA is the law that provides special education.
    • Section 504 is the law that provides 504 plans for eligible K–12 students.
    • ADA provides freedom from discrimination at work.

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