Prior to the enactment of the American with Disabilities Act, the statute that provided the most comprehensive rights to disabled children other than IDEA was the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This act forbids any entity that receives federal financial funding from discriminating on the basis of disability. The act protects all individuals with physical or mental impairments that substantially limit their major life activities and are regarded as having such impairments. Major life activities under this description include an individual's ability to care for himself or herself, performance of manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning and working. If an entity, such as a school, violates the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act, the Department of Education will investigate. The most likely remedy for these violations is termination of federal financial assistance to the entity.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed by Congress in 1990, provides many of the same protections for disabled children as the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. However, unlike the Rehabilitation Act, the prohibitions under the ADA are not limited to those that receive federal financial assistance. The ADA is applicable in other areas as well where the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act may not provide protection. This is especially true with respect to architectural barriers to a building. Part II of the ADA, which is applicable to public schools, requires accessibility for the entire program. Part III, applicable to private schools, contains similar provisions.
Contact a qualified education attorney to help you navigate education rights and laws.