The ADA, IDEA, and COVID-19

IDEA and the ADA

IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) is a law that was originally introduced to Congress in 1975 and revamped in 2004 and 2015. The purpose of this act is to provide free public education for children with disabilities, and ensure that special education and early intervention is provided to all students that require it.[1] IDEA helps identify students who need special education, while the ADA ensures physical access to facilities necessary for their success and prohibits the discrimination on the basis of disability that would prevent someone from being able to participate. These acts work hand-in-hand to help students with disabilities thrive to their fullest potential.

Part of identifying and accommodating students with disabilities under IDEA includes evaluating the student in order to create an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These programs are developed by an educational team to meet each student’s needs, taking into account the academic, developmental, and functional needs of the student.[2] This program could involve, for example, participation in a special education program, allowing for additional time to complete tests, or being exempt from certain assignments. These programs are created and updated throughout the student’s academic career with both educational teachers, parents, and others involved in order to ensure each student’s needs are met, set goals, and discuss progress.[3] These are implemented with the consent of the parents, and classroom teachers also receive the IEP so they are able to support the student’s modifications.[4] However, unlike the ADA, IDEA only covers students between the ages of 3 to 21 and does not include college students.[5] In addition, IDEA identifies 13 specific disabilities[6] while the ADA includes a broader range of disabilities.

The combination of the ADA and IDEA ensures that students can physically access and participate in all educational and extracurricular activities while having the accommodations and modifications needed to give them the same opportunity for success. What would the world look like without them?

A World without the ADA and IDEA

Studies have shown that 17.8% of students between the ages of 3 and 17 have a developmental disability.[7] Examples of these disabilities include Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Intellectual Disability, hearing loss, and blindness.[8] With such a high rate of diagnosis, it’s imperative that public policy requires accommodations for each child living with a disability.

The ADA exists to provide protection and prevent discrimination for these students. Within the education sector, the ADA requires both public and private schools to provide reasonable accommodation for students and staff members with disabilities. These accommodations may include alterations to buildings, vision and hearing interpreters, special technology to support their studies, and more, ensuring that students can participate in all educational and extracurricular activities alongside their fellow students. IDEA ensures that these students are able to attend and participate in public schools in their own neighborhoods while receiving a tailored educational program to both support and monitor their. Without these accommodations, children with disabilities would likely not receive the same education or opportunity to socialize as their peers. This means that if the ADA and IDEA didn’t exist, 1 in 6 children in the United States would suffer from a lack of education and inclusive schooling[9].

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced potential barriers and apprehension surrounding education for students with disabilities. Parents have the ultimate responsibility to determine what is best for their children during this unprecedented time, and questions have been raised about how best to continue the provision of education services for these children and whether they would learn better in an in-person school environment, or remotely at home.

Schooling for Children with Disabilities during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed what the educational setting looks and feels like. With a large amount of uncertainty and safety as the number one priority, how can a family with a child that has a disability anticipate dilemmas and proactively navigate challenges? The school year looks different for students all over the country and parents may not always have the opportunity to choose between remote or in-person learning. Regardless of the options, the question remains: How can education be inclusive of children with disabilities during a global pandemic? What can be done to ensure that these children continue to receive the same level of support that they would during a regular school year?

Fortunately, both the ADA and IDEA continue to provide students with the legal right to reasonable accommodation. These rights don’t disappear due to COVID-19 and will remain to support all students and their families during this time.

Each Disability is Different

Not all disabilities are created equal. Some disabilities are physical, some are mental, some are noticeable, and some are invisible. Some disabilities don’t require any accommodations and can be managed with medication and family support. Other disabilities require extensive assistance, constant monitoring, and continuous support. Some of the assistance that students receive from providers can only be done in person, such as working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, interpreters, and social workers. An interruption from school therapies, which differ from in-home therapies, may result in the student experiencing some regression due to a lack of services.[10]. In addition, parents may find it difficult to utilize or get access to the technological applications, programs, and resources that may not be readily available outside of the school system.

Parents will have to consider these variables when making the decision to send their child to school or to conduct remote learning. Will their child succeed in an altered environment? Will they receive the same assistance as before, or will they lack support? Will their learning be impacted by the pandemic? Are parents able to accommodate their child’s needs at home, or will they only receive an effective education in person?

There are many questions to consider while making the decision of how to handle a child’s education. There is no right or wrong answer, and parents’ decisions may differ from others in a similar situation. It’s important for parents to learn about how the ADA and IDEA can support children during this time. Parents must feel confident and supported in their decisions about which setting would best benefit their child.

Transitioning back to the classroom?

If your child is transitioning from remote learning back to in-person learning, continue to our next piece, which provides guidelines on preparing for your child’s return to the classroom.

[1] “About IDEA,” IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, accessed August 26, 2020,

[2] “Section 1414,” IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, accessed October 5, 2020,

[3] “A Comparison of ADA, IDEA, and Section 504,” Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, accessed October 5, 2020,

[4] “IDEA vs. Section 504/ADA,” Eastern Oklahoma State College, accessed October 5, 2020,

[5] Section 1412 (a) (1),” IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, accessed October 5, 2020,

[6] Sec. 300.8 Child with a disability,” IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, accessed October 5, 2020,

[7] Benjamin Zablotsky et al, “Prevalence and Trends of Developmental Disabilities among Children in the United States: 2009-2017,” Pediatrics October 2019, 144 (4) e20190811; DOI:

[8] “Increase in Developmental Disabilities,” CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last modified September 26, 2019,

[9] Melissa Jenco, “Study: 1 in 6 Children Has Developmental Disability”, AAP News, September 26, 2019,

[10] “Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Educational Accommodation,” Stimmel Law, accessed August 24, 2020,