Work and School Issues

Disabilities can present many challenges.  But the good news is that there are laws to protect your rights both in school and in the workplace. 

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the civil rights of people with disabilities, providing equal employment opportunities for qualified individuals. If you or a loved one is suffering from, or diagnosed with, a short-term disability you should know your rights under ADA.

Under ADA your employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants with disabilities unless such accommodations would pose an undue hardship to the employer (i.e. the accommodation required is too costly, extensive, disruptive, etc.)  Typically the disabled employee is responsible for requesting an accommodation.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (the organization responsible for enforcing ADA compliance) recommends that individuals with disabilities put their accommodation request in writing.  There are no specific guidelines or forms to complete – simply write a memo, note or letter to your employer asking for the accommodation that you or your doctor recommend in order for you to continue, or begin, work, as is outlined under the ADA.  It’s a good idea to identify what the specific problematic job task is for which you are requesting a specific job accommodation.  You may want to attach a copy of any relevant medical documentation and to also send a copy to your company’s Human Resources department.

 Vocational Rehabilitation Services

States are required to help individuals with disabilities find work.  Every state has a vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency which has local offices that provides services such as skill assessment, vocational training and job placement services as well as funds to disabled job-seekers.  VR agencies will help you or a loved one create an Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE) and some VR agencies provide medical and related services to help people with severe or significant disabilities find work. Services vary by state.  You can locate your local VR office by looking under the “Government” section in your phone book under the State Department of Education, Department of Human Services or Department of Labor.

School Support and Services

If your child is in a public school there may be resources for him or her to continue schooling with support.  States get federal funds to provide appropriate education and related services to children with disabilities – short-term or long-term/chronic disabilities.  Local school districts receive funds to ensure that children get a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE) and all children ages 5-21 with disabilities qualify for support.  Specific disabilities that qualify children for special education considerations include:

  • Mental retardation
  • Hearing impairments
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Visual impairments
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairments
  • Autism
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Other health impairments or specific learning disabilities
  • Public schools may also serve children ages 3-9 with developmental disabilities or delays. 

Education Accommodations and IEPs

Schools are required to use the “least restrictive setting” for your child’s education meaning that every effort must be made to reach your child in his/her regular classroom.  Eligible students are required to have an individualized education plan (IEP) each year that will outline what classroom support and other services he/she will need to receive to participate in the regular curriculum for his/her grade level.  Parents are required to help write the IEP with teacher and school support and parents have a say in what setting their child will receive their education. 

If you or your child needs special education or services while recovering from a short-term disability in order to continue schooling, ask the teacher, school principal or Director of Special Education in your school district (either under your county “Education” section in the phone book or online through the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE).  

 “504” Plan

Children who do not qualify for special education may still be able to receive special classroom or activity accommodations under the Rehabilitation Act – Section 504 anti-discrimination laws.  Ask about a “504 plan” which will describe what accommodations the student will need to learn and play in order to participate in normal classroom and school activities.  All school districts are required to have a 504 coordinator.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates that publicly-funded school provide a free and appropriate education in the least-restrictive setting for children and people with disabilities.  IDEA provides for a wide range of education-related services including:

  • physical therapy
  • speech-language therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • home health services
  • nutrition services
  • special education
  • social work
  • service coordination
  • transportation services and more

You can find out more about eligibility requirements for IDEA support through your state or local human services or welfare department.  You will need to apply for IDEA consideration and work with your, or your child’s, teacher or school administration to create an individualized education plan (IEP) while receiving IDEA assistance.  Click here for more information on IDEA and local service providers.