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Dyslexia, the ADA and IDEA

Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) is a civil rights law that was originally passed by Congress in 1990 (as the Americans with Disabilities Act-ADA) and protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace, as well as school and other settings. The ADA was amended in 2008 and became effective January 1, 2009. The law does not provide funding for services or accommodations.

Who Is Eligible?

There is no specific mention of learning disabilities in ADAAA. However, the law defines a person as disabled if he or she:
• has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities;
• has a record of such an impairment;
• is regarded as having such an impairment. 28 CFR Sec. 36.104

Under the law, learning, reading, thinking and concentrating are all considered major life activities among others listed in the law. The ADAAA requires a broader interpretation of disability by schools, testing agencies and employers than the original law. As a result, individuals with LD should have an easier time qualifying for accommodations in school, work and/or for testing. If a student is eligible for services under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) he or she qualifies for protection under the ADAAA.

ADAAA and School

ADAAA mandates that reasonable accommodations must be provided to students with disabilities who meet the requirements but may not be eligible for services under the IDEA. In other words, a school is required to provide a student with those accommodations that help him or her learn most effectively. The requirements for schools in the law are the same as those set in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students not eligible for IDEA may be eligible for Section 504 protections under the ADAAA.

Unlike Section 504 and IDEA, the ADAAA does not make schools responsible for the free and appropriate education of all children. However, the protections and/or accommodations that are guaranteed by the ADAAA/Section 504 apply equally to public and private K–12 schools, colleges, universities and testing agencies. These protections do not extend to organizations controlled by religious groups. School districts are required to provide a grievance procedure when disagreements arise.

ADAAA and the Workplace

The ADAAA prohibits discrimination against “qualified individuals with disabilities” in all employment practices, including job application procedures, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation and training. A “qualified individual with disabilities” is an employee or job applicant who meets all legitimate skill, experience, education and other requirements of a position and can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

An employer may not ask about a learning disability, with one exception. If an employer has affirmative action requirements as part of a federal contract, a job applicant may be asked to “self-identify.” However, the employer must keep all information regarding disabilities in a separate, confidential file apart from regular personnel files.

If an employee requires accommodations in order to perform a job, he or she must disclose information about the disability and the need for specific accommodations to the employer. Even after disclosure, an employer is not required to make an accommodation that would prove an “undue hardship.”

The safeguards regarding discrimination against individuals with disabilities are under the same procedures applicable to race, color, sex, national origin and religious discrimination under the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1991. Complaints against employers who violate the ADAAA should be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the designated state human rights agencies.

More information can be found at:

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the nation’s federal special education law that ensures public schools serve the educational needs of students with disabilities. IDEA requires that schools provide special education services to eligible students as outlined in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). IDEA also provides very specific requirements to guarantee a free appropriate public education (FAPE) for students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (LRE). FAPE and LRE are the protected rights of every eligible child, in all fifty states and U.S. Territories.

IDEA requires every state to issue regulations that guide the implementation of the federal law within the state. At a minimum, state regulations must provide all of the protections contained in IDEA. Some states may have additional requirements that go beyond the federal law. Many states offer handbooks or guides to help parents understand these state-specific policies and procedures.

IDEA and Specific Learning Disabilities

As of 2011, more than 6 million school-age children in the United States receive special education services as a result of IDEA. More than forty percent—some 2.2 million—are students identified with a specific learning disability.

IDEA requires that parents participate in the team that discusses the child’s learning needs and determines if the school should conduct a comprehensive evaluation if it is suspected that the child has a learning disability (LD). However, not every child with a disability may qualify for special education services. In order to be eligible for these services, the student must both have a disability and, as a result of that disability, need special education in order to make progress in school and in order to receive benefit from the general educational program. The identification process can be complex; tools to help navigate the process can be found on

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Once a student has been formally evaluated and found eligible for special education services, the parents work with a school team to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The IEP is a formal a contract outlining the services and support the school will provide in order for the child to benefit from the educational program. An IEP must be developed before a student can begin receiving special education services and it must be reviewed and updated each year. This annual review is required for as long as the student remains eligible for special education services.

While each state differs in how they develop an IEP, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires that every IEP include the following:

• how the student is currently performing in school;
• how the student can achieve educational goals in the coming year; and,
• how the student will participate in the general education curriculum.

Parental Involvement

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides specific procedural safeguards to help parents advocate for their child’s educational well-being. It promotes parents’ involvement in the education of their child and gives them the necessary tools to be key decision makers. The federal law allows parents to participate in all meetings concerning their child, examine their child’s school records, request an independent evaluation and agree or disagree with placement decisions.

IDEA is a complex law that can be difficult to understand. NCLD offers a parent-friendly guide with checklists, tips and tools to help parents embrace ways to make the law work for their child. Many parents have questions about their child’s rights, which is why every state is required to have at least one Parent Training and Information Center (PTI). The center’s primary purpose is to provide parents with timely information about special education so that they may effectively participate in meeting the educational needs of their children. Many states also have Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRC) that are designed to serve the needs of low-income parents, parents of children with limited English proficiency and parents with disabilities.