For most of history, people with disabilities were stopped from doing the same things most Americans take for granted – going to school, voting in elections, getting a job, getting married, having children – because of unfair laws or outright discrimination. The Disability Rights movement worked to change the laws and write new laws that protect the rights of people with disabilities. Laws began to be passed in the 1970’s to prevent discrimination against and accommodate people with disabilities in federal-funded programs, companies, and schools.
Learning what laws are in place to protect your rights is an important part of being a self-advocate and being successful in school and in life.
Education for All Handicapped Children Act
The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was passed in 1975 and revised in 2004. This law:
- Requires all federally-funded schools to provide equal access to a quality education.
- Allows parents to be more involved in their child’s education and care plans.
- Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for all students with disabilities
Because this law covers students through either age 18 or 21, it probably won’t cover you as you enter college. But if you are still in high school, learn about what specific education rights you have under this law to make sure you’re fully prepared for college.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to provide even more rights for people with disabilities in education, employment, public transportation and accommodations, and government services. The ADA says that college and universities must create integrated and accessible environments. It also requires “reasonable academic and administrative policy adjustments.” These may include:
- Note-taking or a sign language interpreter in class.
- Class materials in electronic/print formats, large print, or braille.
- Captions or transcripts for video and audio presentations.
- Testing assistance such as extended time, alternate formats, or a distraction-free environment.
Requesting Accommodations at School
First, contact the Disability Services Office at your school. You will need to find out what paperwork they need about your disability, and make sure it is in on time. The office can tell you what accommodations they can arrange for you, and what you will need to arrange with your professor directly.
Use the InclusiveU Accommodation Request Worksheet to help you determine what accommodations you need, and give a copy to your professors when you meet with them (during the first week of classes). You can also give them the InclusiveU Guide to Including All Students for more detail on accommodations you are requesting, and ways to include Universal Design principles in the classroom.
Other college buildings need to be accessible. Contact your school’s disability services if you find problems on campus, such as a lack or ramps, braille writing on signs, or a lack of handicapped-accessible parking.
The ADA applies not only to college campuses, but most public areas and services. As a college student you may find yourself a regular at:
- Businesses such as Restaurants, Stores, and Banks.
- Public places such as Libraries, Parks, and Public Transportation.
These kinds of places also need to install reasonable accessibility measures, so be an advocate whenever possible. Wherever you see a need for accommodations or accessibility, it is your responsibility to speak up! Be a self-advocate (and an advocate for others with disabilities). If you find a problem, ask to talk to the manager or the owner about how they can better accommodate you. Keep in mind that the law only requires accessibility that does not create a undue financial burden.
Being a Disability Rights Advocate
Laws help, but they only work when people know them and make sure they are followed. Activists for disability rights are still needed! Learn more about joining the disability rights movement by checking out these links:
- ADAPT is an organization that practices direct action to change laws and policies for people with disabilities who need attendant support and accessibility.
- American Association of People with Disabilities has a summer internship program, which teaches college students about disability rights work.
- Disability Rights Advocates is a legal group that files and fights lawsuits to protect the rights of people with disabilities.