Educational Law Definitions

Know Your Rights

It's important to understand the civil and educational rights laws that can ensure access and protect you from discrimination in school or on the job. Below is a brief overview of several major civil and educational rights laws, as well as some additional resources on self-advocacy and leadership.

ADA 101
IDEA 101
Advocacy Situations
Next Steps in Advocating
Leadership Qualities

ADA 101

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals against discrimination in many areas of their lives. The ADA outlines five areas (“titles”) in which people with disabilities have legal rights: employment, public services, public accommodations, telecommunications and other miscellaneous provisions.

ADA Title I: Employment
Title I requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others.

ADA Title II: State and Local Government Activities
Title II covers all activities of state and local governments regardless of the government entity's size or receipt of federal funding. Title II requires that state and local governments give people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all of their programs, services and activities (e.g. public education, employment, transportation, recreation, health care, social services, courts, voting and town meetings).

The transportation provisions of Title II cover public transportation services, such as city buses and public rail transit (e.g. subways, commuter rails, Amtrak).

ADA Title III: Public Accommodations
Title III covers businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation and commercial facilities. Public accommodations are private entities who own, lease, lease to, or operate facilities such as restaurants, retail stores, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, convention centers, doctors' offices, homeless shelters, transportation depots, zoos, funeral homes, day care centers, and recreation facilities including sports stadiums and fitness clubs. Transportation services provided by private entities are also covered by Title III.

ADA Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services
Title IV addresses telephone and television access for people with hearing and speech disabilities. It requires common carriers (telephone companies) to establish interstate and intrastate telecommunications relay services (TRS) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

ADA Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions
Title V contains multiple additional laws and acts adopted through the years to further strengthen ADA.

All summaries (except for Title V) are taken from the US Department of Justice website for A Guide to Disability Rights Laws

IDEA 101


What is the IDEA?
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees the right to a free and appropriate public education to infants, children and teens with disabilities (ages birth to 21, or until achieving a high school diploma) in the least restrictive environment appropriate. The law specifies how schools must provide or deny services, and how parents can approach school districts, as well as challenge school district recommendations. IDEA includes three parts: Part A, which outlines general provisions, Part B, which outlines provisions for school-aged children (ages 3 to 21), including the Individualized Education Program (IEP), and Part C, which provides for early intervention services for children ages birth to 3.

The IEP provides for both special education services and accommodations, including in the classroom and on educational tests. The IEP may include provision for:

  • Interpreting/captioning.
  • Assistive technology (including its purchase and the training of student, family and teachers in its use).
  • Classroom accommodations and related services, such as acoustical improvements, preferential seating and modifications to testing (especially standardized testing).
  • Special instruction and classroom support services, such as speech and hearing therapy, tutorial assistance, etc.
  • School districts are required to provide whatever services are necessary to ensure that the student receives an appropriate education; those services MUST be outlined in writing on the IEP.

For those 16 and older:
The IEP must include a “statement of transition service needs” designed to ensure that the student’s educational program is planned to help the student reach his/her goals for life after secondary school. This concept, transition planning, is supposed to help the student move from grade to grade, and from school to post-school activities.

The group that makes decisions (the IEP Team) must include:

  • Parents
  • At least one regular education teacher, if applicable
  • At least one special education teacher or service provider
  • School administrator who is knowledgeable about special education policies
  • Professional who can interpret evaluation results and make suggestions on instruction
  • Individuals (invited by family or the school) with special knowledge or expertise about the child or teen
  • Representatives from any other agencies that may be responsible for paying for or providing transition services
  • Any other qualified professionals (e.g., school psychologist, speech-language pathologist, physical therapist, etc.) invited by the district or family
  • YOU—if appropriate

What do you do if you don’t agree with the IEP, or the school isn’t providing the services they’ve promised?

  1. Parents never have to sign the IEP.
  2. Meet with the IEP team again to try to straighten things out.
  3. Go through mediation, in which an impartial third person facilitates discussion and a possible resolution of the issues between the family and the school district.
  4. Initiate due process, in which the family and the school district present evidence before an impartial third party (“hearing officer”) who decides the issue.
  5. For procedural issues, file a complaint with the state education agency (SEA), in which the family writes directly to the SEA and describes what requirement of IDEA the school district has violated. In most cases, the SEA must resolve your complaint within 60 calendar days.

For more information about IDEA, visit the US Department of Education site for IDEA. For more information about the IEP process and other aspects of Part B of IDEA, take the free Parent Advocacy Training course.

Advocacy Situations


You’re told that you do not qualify for extra time during the SAT/ACT/GRE.
If this accommodation is in your IEP, denying you extra time to complete the test may be a violation of ADA.

You’re told your high school can’t afford a Cued Speech interpreter so you cannot have this form of accommodation.
This may be a violation of IDEA. Cost is not sufficient reason to deny services.

Your high school has asked you to learn sign language because they can’t find an oral interpreter.
This is a violation of IDEA. School districts must respect a student's preferred mode of communication.

You’re told that you cannot attend your IEP meeting your senior year of high school.
This is a violation of IDEA, unless the school district can identify a valid reason why it would be inappropriate for you to attend the meeting.

A note taker’s support is in your IEP. Your note taker is not taking notes. You’ve told your teacher and he’s said to give her another chance. Nothing has changed. You tell your teacher again. Nothing happens.
If note taker support is in your IEP, the failure to implement the IEP violation of IDEA.

Your substitute doesn't want to wear a microphone for your FM system.

If an FM system is in your IEP, the failure to implement the IEP is a violation of the IDEA.

You’re told your college can’t afford an FM system so you cannot request this technology.
Unless the cost of an accommodation is exorbitant when compared to the entire college budget, this is a violation of ADA.

You’re told that you cannot waive a foreign language requirement in your first year of college/university.
This is legal, although many schools make it optional for students with hearing loss. The ADA can require reasonable accommodation, but cannot require modification of a fundamental part of a program.

Your neighborhood movie theatre doesn’t have any ALDs. The manager has never heard of the ADA.
This is a violation of ADA.

When you go to test drive a car, the salesman asks if deaf people can drive.
Not a violation of ADA, simply a violation of your dignity. This would be a violation if the salesman's prejudice negatively impacted your ability to secure a loan, etc.

You are in a job interview for an awesome summer internship when, shortly after the interviewer asks about your hearing aids, the interview is abruptly concluded. When you call to see why you didn’t get the job, you’re told that the job requires a lot of telephone contact and that you wouldn’t be a good fit.
This is a violation of ADA unless the company can show that accommodation would cause undue hardship or fundamentally alter the nature of the position.

Next Steps to Advocate for Yourself


Join an AG Bell chapter and be an active participant.

Speak to your school’s faculty, your class, your school, your team, etc., about hearing loss.

Mentor a younger student with hearing loss.

Participate in the development of your IEP. Talk to your parents about the best way for you to become involved in this process. Older students may be asked to participate in developing their IEP.

Work on a campaign. Support candidates who advocate for people with disabilities.

Persist. Great visions often start with small dreams.

Leadership Qualities


Learn to be strong but not rude.
It is an extra step you must take to become a powerful, capable leader with a wide range of reach. Some people mistake rudeness for strength.

Learn to be kind but not weak.
We must not mistake kindness for weakness. Kindness isn't weak. Kindness is a certain type of strength. We must be kind enough to tell somebody the truth. We must be kind enough and considerate enough to lay it on the line.

Learn to be bold but not a bully.
It takes boldness to win the day. To build your influence, you've got to walk in front of your group. You've got to be willing to take the first arrow, tackle the first problem or discover the first sign of trouble.

You've got to learn to be humble, but not timid.
You can't get to the high life by being timid. Some people mistake timidity for humility.

Be proud but not arrogant.
It takes pride to win the day. It takes pride to build your ambition, but arrogance never has to be part of that equation.

Develop humor without folly.
That's important for a leader. In leadership, we learn that it's okay to be witty, but not silly. It's okay to be fun, but not foolish.

Deal in realities. Deal in truth.
Save yourself the agony. Just accept life like it is. Life is unique. The fundamental skills of leadership can be adapted to work well for just about everyone: at school, work, in the community and at home.


Learn more about AG Bell’s Educational Advocacy resources and take the Parent Advocacy Training course.