ADA, IDEA and Section 504: What Parents of Children with Hearing Loss Should Know

When I was a little girl, I would often come downstairs to see my mom, Barbara Mandel, tutoring a child with special needs. She obtained her masters in special education while I was in elementary school. By the time I entered high school, my mom had developed a thriving business testing students from high school to post-secondary for disabilities and, when necessary, providing those students with accommodations. The idea that we all gather and express information in our own unique ways, was preached to me from an early age

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Today, I have a three-year-old daughter who was born deaf and who wears bilateral cochlear implants. Technically, she is considered a child with special needs, and I have gone back to my mom more than a few times to understand what rights Sonya has under US disabilities law, including: ADA – the Americans with Disabilities ActIDEA – The Individuals with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. While I haven’t had to use this information yet, I am sure I one day will and I thought other parents in similar shoes would benefit greatly from knowing their children’s legal rights as well.

Can you explain what IDEA is and who it protects?
IDEA stands for The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is a federal law that governs early intervention, special education and related services for disabled schoolchildren K-12. IDEA requires that a public school create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each child with special needs. IEPs are developed by a designated educational team with the goal of tailoring a child’s educational program to meet his or her individualized needs so that they can find success in the K-12 education system.

And what is Section 504 and who does it protect?
Section 504 is a civil rights law that protects individuals from discrimination based on their disability in connection with any public or private program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. A 504 Plan is developed when a K-12 student needs certain accommodations and modifications to the physical space of the school or the learning environment (as opposed to the educational program itself). Section 504 expands beyond K-12 and protects post-secondary students with disabilities as well. To note, Section 504 states that post-secondary students must have the opportunity to compete with their non-disabled peers (as opposed to IDEA which promotes finding success in a K-12 educational environment, A post-secondary 504 Plan ensures equal opportunity only).

What is the ADA and who does it protect? 
ADA stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act. ADA protects the rights of all Americans who have mental and/or physical medical conditions, including hearing loss.

How does ADA apply to children who are deaf or hard of hearing?
For children (ages 3-21) with hearing loss, Titles II and III of ADA are most relevant. Title II requires public entities (including public schools) to ensure that communication access is as effective for children with hearing loss as it is for their typically hearing peers. Upon request, schools have to provide the student with hearing loss auxiliary aids or services. Title III expands ADA to apply to almost any place open to the public including private schools (with the exception of private clubs or religious institutions).

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What do auxiliary aids and services for students with hearing loss entail under ADA?
This means that students who request it can receive qualified interpreters, note takers, an exchange of written materials such as notes, computer-aided transcription services (“CART”), assistive listening systems such as an FM system, accessible electronic and information technology and captioning.

Under ADA the person with hearing loss gets “primary consideration” when requesting an aid or service.
”Primary consideration” means it’s up to the person with hearing loss, not the school, to decide what services or aids are most appropriate. The school must honor the choice of the student unless they can prove that their choice is as effective and will give the student equal access.

And what does it mean that auxiliary aids and services need to be provided in a timely manner? What is considered “timely”?
Once the student has indicated a need for a service or aid, the public school district must provide it as soon as possible, even if the evaluation and IEP process is pending.

What about a student’s privacy?
Under ADA, privacy of the student with the disability must be protecetd. Services should not disclose the nature and extent of an individual’s disability. So while students in your child’s class will see that a child is using an FM system, it is illegal for the teacher to call out your child’s hearing loss.

My mom sent me a very cool chart at understood.org (I can’t recommend this site enough as  resource for parents!) that gives a nice overview of the federal laws and how they apply to disabilities:

At a glance

I hope this is helpful to the American parents out there reading!! Feel free to leave questions in the comments section. I’ll have my mom respond to you directly!

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6 thoughts

  1. This is very helpful, but I was wondering, does it apply to kids who have single sided deafness too? I keep hearing that those kids don’t count.

    1. According to my mom: I would think it applies to any deafness that interferes with learning and accessing information.  The definition of a disability is a condition that interferes with a major life action.  This includes mobility, vision, hearing, learning etc.

      1. More info from ADA: It is important to remember that in the context of the ADA, “disability” is a legal term rather than a medical one. Because it has a legal definition, the ADA’s definition of disability is different from how disability is defined under some other laws.
        The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.

  2. Hi thank you so much for the info. My daughter is hearing impaired and wears hearing aides, as a result she is Speech delayed. She will be entering kindergarten next Fall. I am going to state that I want her in an inclusion class and I also want her to have a one on one aide. Can I use the ADA to back me up. I know they don it give one in one aides too freely and some people have to put up a battle for one. Does my daughter have legal rights to an aide. Thank you, Sue

    1. Your daughter would likely be covered under the individual with disabilities education act (idea). Definitely advocate for her as you are doing! You sound like a great mom.

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