Back to School

Dana Roller

September 21, 2022

Most children in this country have been back in school for the last few weeks. So, what has the new school year been like for children with disabilities? It's an essential question since we know that at the primary school level, roughly one in three students have a disability in some variety. In 2017, 19% of undergraduate and 12% of graduate students in theUS reported having a disability. There are students with disabilities at every level of education. Unfortunately, many parents of children with disabilities often feel some educators continue to demonstrate a lack of awareness of and knowledge of the issues faced by students with disabilities. Thankfully, suppose parents of children with disabilities face problems in school. In that case, several pieces of legislation are designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. However, the most significant legislative efforts are the IDEA, ADA, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA), formerly known as the Education for All Children with Disabilities Act of 1975, requires the provision of accessible and appropriate education in public schools for eligible students aged 3 to 21. Eligible students are those who, in the opinion of the specialist team, have a disability that affects academic achievement and require special education and related services. In 2020-2021, it was reported that 15% of all public school students (7.2 million students) between the ages of 3 and 21 benefitted from the IDEA. These acts combine to ensure students' Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This means that schools must provide services and resources for disabled students equivalent to those for non-disabled students.

Students with mobility impairment aren't eligible under this act. However, they are covered under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These two acts helped to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination based on their disability status. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act: required schools to meet the needs of their students with disabilities. It has broken down many barriers preventing students from accessing educational resources and has allowed more individuals to benefit fully from a college education. The purpose of the 504 Plan is to eliminate barriers to enabling students with disabilities to participate freely in public education or schools receiving state funds. These acts apply to all levels of education in the United States, starting with primary and secondary schooling.

Primary and Secondary Education

Public and private institutions from pre-school through high school are required by law to have accessible features. According to the ADA, all public buildings must have a wheelchair-accessible entrance either as part of their front entrance or in addition. However, many older buildings remain inaccessible because the law applies to new construction or any upgrades made post-2010. A report in 2020 indicated that roughly two-thirds of public schools in the country contain features that act as barriers to accessibility for students with disabilities.

Some private schools, like the Henry Viscardi School, accept students with disabilities and medical attention. However, suppose the disability in question is a mobility impairment, such as requiring a wheelchair. In that case, these schools may not be the right choice. In addition, because these schools can only accept a limited number of students, their selection criteria are often aimed at students with learning disabilities who require specialized education.

Although the ADA has been in place for over 30 years, everyday people uncover lapses/gaps in the accessibility of schools across the country. However, we know there has been progress. For example, in 2020, when the Department of Justice learned that a school in Louisiana wasn't fully accessible to wheelchair users, a formal review was done. As a result, the school was legally required to make the necessary adjustments. Because of the daily challenges persons with disabilities face, institutions must ensure these students have access to essential and equitable services and resources. This doesn't stop at the primary and secondary levels.

Higher Education

In postsecondary settings, colleges and universities are responsible for providing students with disabilities who fit the definition of a disability with equal access to education and protecting them from discrimination. Because postsecondary educational programs are required by law to make accommodations available to students with disabilities who request them, many schools have established offices whose purpose is to work with students with disabilities.

Colleges and universities across the country have turned their efforts towards ensuring their campuses are inclusive and accessible for all students, regardless of their mobility requirements. Depending on the student's needs, a variety of postsecondary schools accommodate the needs of their disabled students. The United Spinal Association and New Mobility Magazine created a list of their top choices for wheelchair-friendly campuses across theUnited States. Here are a few of the universities known for their disability-focused attitudes.

Ball State University

Ball State University in Indiana is a mid-sized university known for its disability-friendly services to its students, such as wheelchair repair and renting out loaner wheelchairs in the case of any damage to their wheelchairs. In addition, they offer snow removal services, prioritizing the routes used by students with disabilities. The university is also known for its extensive catalog of wheelchair sports.

Duke University

Duke University in North Carolina offers paratransit services for cross-campus accessibility regardless of the weather conditions. Available to students with mobility impairment, Duke's paratransit services ensure their students have access to travel across campus via buses or vans. In addition, the Student Disability Access Office at Duke works with the students to create and implement a plan for appropriate accommodation and services.

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania

Edinboro University, located near Erie, PA, provides its students with on-campus wheelchair maintenance technicians. In addition, Edinboro University offers wheelchair-accessible transportation services on and off campus in the case of inclement weather. The university also provides several wheelchair sports programs on both varsity and intramural levels.

Stanford University

Stanford's Office of Accessible Education works with their students to provide a comprehensive plan for their students with disabilities to take advantage of the available services and accommodations.The school is dedicated to helping its students take advantage of every opportunity they offer to make their college experience as inclusive as possible. Stanford also provides their students with the necessary resources for studying abroad.

University of Michigan

This university in Ann Arbor, MI, provides student services to support students with disabilities in transition from student to professional life. In addition, it offers accessible accommodation and transportation resources to any student who may require them, regardless of the season. There are also several adaptive sports students available for students with disabilities.

At every level of education, services and resources ensure everyone has access to the education and reasonable accommodation they deserve. Having a disability doesn't change that fact, but it does mean that there are often barriers to overcome. There is legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, specifically designed to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. Although crucial to the equitable treatment of disabled students, institutions still fall behind the curve. Until this ceases to be the case, there will still be work to be done.

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