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Disability Laws: High School vs. Post-Secondary School

October 14, 2023
Adult Life, Advocacy, Transition Planning

Students with disabilities are entitled to receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Once they transition out of high school or an alternative educational program, they may be eligible for accommodations and services under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This will apply in their higher education setting, workplace, or training program. Below are some of the key differences between IDEA and ADA.

High School

(Protection under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)

  • Services, accommodations, and modifications are provided under IDEA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • Parents and students can advocate for services and rights.
  • Parents have access to student records.
  • School district is responsible for students’ evaluations at no cost to the family.
  • Parents, teachers, and students set goals and management needs for academic success.
  • If a student is alternately assessed, grading and curriculum standards may be modified according to the student’s needs. Transportation is provided by the school, if necessary.

After High School

(Protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act)

  • Services and accommodations are provided under ADA or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
  • A person with a disability may be asked to provide documentation as proof of disability.
  • Keep a copy of all IEPs, evaluations, and diagnostic records.
  • In some cases a service provider may be able to assist persons with disabilities to obtain an evaluation.
  • Persons with disabilities are responsible for self-identifying (disclosing) and self-advocating.
  • Persons with disabilities typically have sole access to their records unless consent is given to share with others (family members, support professionals, etc.).
  • In certain instances, service providers will assist people in obtaining evaluations (such as through the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)).
  • Persons with disabilities are responsible for organizing or applying for transportation services.

Key Differences:

  • There is a shift in responsibilities from a parent, teacher, or support person to the person with a disability. 
  • As a student, schools and school districts are responsible for providing services and supports.
  • As an adult, the young person must demonstrate self-advocacy by actively requesting those same services and supports.