Impact of American with Disability Act ADA on Public Schools

Look closely at a public school building and one may notice something unique in its design. There are ramps and elevators.  This may seem to be commonplace on a high school campus; however, such things were rare more than 20 years ago.  

There are other curious things found on or near the school that didn’t exist a generation ago. They are such things as small school buses with mechanical ramps in the parking lot or adjustable tables, smart boards, and wheel-chair-access restroom and facilities within the buildings.

The structural features found in today’s public schools were made possible by a law better known as American with Disability Act (ADA). This particularly multifaceted civil rights bill has had a profound social and technological effect in the daily lives of citizens with or without disabilities in the United States. For one thing, it allows for equal and reasonable access to facilities used by disabled people, as well as presenting a due process of law for protecting their rights.

Still, its greatest impact is on public schools. From the types of transportation that drops off disabled students in front of the school, to the equipment and accommodations made to the physical structures in order to help these students, ADA’s impact has become a major component of how these campuses are coordinated.

What is ADA?

ADA, signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, was not made primarily for public schools. In fact, it has little to do with the type of curriculum taught in schools. The laws – Individual with Disability Education Act (IDEA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 – deal directly with the curriculum and education of students with disabilities.

Instead, ADA focuses on access and prevention of discrimination against people with disabilities. It deals with a wide range of areas including hiring practices in the public and private sector, public or mass transportation, building access, and telecommunication.  Each area addressed by ADA is divided into “Titles”. They are as follows:

Title I – Employment

Title II – Public transportation

Title III – Public Accommodations (public and private facilities)

Title IV – Telecommunications

Title V – Miscellaneous Provisions (anything not addressed in the previous titles)

Schools and ADA

Title I, Title II, Title III, and – to some degree -Title IV affect how public education is coordinated in the country.  Title II and III are the most notable, whereas, Title I affects teachers and staff members with disabilities.

Public school districts are obligated to adhere to the law. They must provide transportation to students with disabilities which prevent them from traveling to school independently. Also, they must provide facilities that are accessible to students in need of these services.

Students with disabilities are not the only ones. Teachers, secretaries, administrators, and other faculty/staff members with disabilities are protected by ADA, as well.  In their case, access to facilities is part of it; employment is the other issue.

Title I, which deals with employment, is meant to prohibit employers from not hiring a disabled person due to his or her condition (unless it affects the person’s ability to do the job). If someone with a disability is discriminated against on these grounds, that person has the right to have due process of law to prove his or her case.

Fair and Reasonable Equality

While ADA has had a profoundly positive effect on public schools, there have been criticisms. The alterations made to the campus cost money. In many cases the process of turning older school building to become ADA compliant has been lengthy and expensive. Also, in some cases, school district officials have bussed students to ADA compliant schools which were far from the students’ homes. And, of course, the process has led to numerous lawsuits from parents, teachers, state officials, and advocacy groups.

Many of the lawsuits have to do with discrimination. Much of it has to do with a misunderstanding of how the law works.  In part, ADA is meant to give fair and reasonable access or equality. And, in cases in which a person with disability is denied a service, that person must prove that it is a clear case of discrimination.

 In other words, a teacher with physical disabilities can be fired (or non-rehired) for being incompetent despite having a physical limitation. Or, an instructor with serious mental disorders can be denied employment if that disability affects their ability to do the assigned job.

This concept also affects students with disabilities. A wheel-chair bound student can be denied a place on a football team. And, the school would not be out of compliance with ADA.

ADA is a powerful law that has affected the way schools are coordinated. Increasingly, its concept is changing the physical appearances of schools, opening up new areas on campus for students and faculty members with disabilities, and protecting the rights of those with disabilities. It’s not a perfect system; however it is a powerful that has produced numerous changes.

For more information on ADA, check out these websites: