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Possibilities: A Financial Resource for Parents of Children with Disabilities

Your Child’s Education — A Life of Learning

Your child begins learning as an infant, responding as you read, speak, and listen to him or her. And then there are the educational milestones your child crosses: the transitions into elementary school, middle school, high school, and beyond. As time passes, your child develops a deeper awareness of the talents, strengths, and desires that drive him or her further along the path to a fulfilling and happy life. The learning never stops!

Your Child’s Education and the Law — A Summary of Your Rights

The purpose of special education during the elementary and secondary education years is to support your child with special needs in ways that put him or her on par with the rest of the student body—to provide equal opportunities to learn and to ultimately become a productive and independent adult. The laws that support this purpose are described below.

K–12 Education — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) first passed in 1975. It has been updated over the years with the most recent occurring in 2004. IDEA gives your child with disabilities the right to attend public school and receive a free and appropriate education.

In the context of special education, “appropriate” means that your child is entitled to an education in the least restricted environment, that is, your child is to be included in the general education classroom with his or her peers, and is to be taught the general education curriculum in a way that addresses your child's unique learning needs (see Ellen M. Chambers. “What does ‘FAPE’ Really Mean?” February 2008. SPEDWatch — Special Education Activism. Retrieved from on September 11, 2010).

Your child’s right to a Free, Appropriate Public Education, or FAPE, is protected by the IDEA law.

To help bring about this appropriate education, a team that includes you and your child’s teachers will develop his or her Individualized Education Program (IEP). This is a legal document that contains the plan your child needs to make academic progress, and to the best extent possible, become a productive and independent adult. Your child’s school will involve you at every step of this special education plan—it is the law! You have the right to:

  • Attend all IEP meetings and invite someone else if you wish
  • Have someone explain your child’s evaluation report
  • Receive all meeting and legal notices about your child’s IEP
  • Agree or disagree with proposed actions by the school

If your child is 16 or older, he or she must be invited to all IEP meetings as well. By becoming part of the IEP process, your child gains the opportunity to shape the IEP and take steps toward self-advocacy. 

Post-Secondary Education — Your Child’s Right to Accommodations

From the time your child began kindergarten to the time of high school graduation, the school district was required by law to provide learning accommodations specified in your child’s Individual Education Program (IEP).The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protected your child’s right to these accommodations. During college, your child still has a right to learning and testing accommodations, but that right is protected in different ways. 

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect your child’s access to an education if he or she is otherwise qualified to attend (accepted into a college program based on test scores and other required prerequisites). In a post-secondary environment, it is your child’s responsibility to ask for accommodations that will provide this access.

Most post-secondary schools offer Disability Support Services (DSS) that help students with disabilities get needed accommodations. It is important your child request accommodations as soon as possible. In the event equipment needs to be ordered, a classroom must be moved to a wheelchair accessible building, or an interpreter is needed, a school may need advance notice. 

For information on your child’s responsibilities in requesting learning accommodations, see Social Stigmas — To Ask or Not Ask for Accommodations.

Comprehensive Transition and Post-Secondary Education — Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008

This exciting piece of legislation established a grant program for post-secondary schools to develop programs and coursework designed specifically for students with intellectual disabilities (ID), who very likely will not meet standard academic admission requirements. This Act also allows your child with ID to qualify for grants and Work Study Programs (earning college tuition through on-campus jobs).

Post-Secondary Education — If Your Child Feels Subject to Discrimination While At College

Every post-secondary school has a person who must deal with compliance issues for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Your child should bring discriminatory practices to the attention of the this person. If the school's ADA compliance coordinator is unwilling to change policies or practices that discriminate against students with disabilities, you can assist your child in filing a formal complaint with the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (DOE OCR) Your parent center may be able to help you frame your argument or direct you to legal resources that can assist you in this process.

The National Network of Parent Centers

Parent Centers provide training and assistance to the families of the nations 7 million children with disabilities. They are funded through the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Each state has at least one parent center, and those with larger populations may have more.

Parent Centers serve families of children of all ages (birth to 26) and with all disabilities (physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional). Parent centers provide a variety of services, including one-to-one support and assistance, workshops, and publications. To find out about the parent center in your state,

Special Education: What Do I Need to Know?

This publication is available on the PACER Center’s web site. It is an excellent overview of special education that will help you understand:

  • What it is
  • How your child might get into special education
  • How to resolve disagreements with school staff on your child’s special education
  • What role you play in the special education process

To get a copy of Special Education: What Do I Need to Know? Visit and search on the name of this publication.

Next Page: Planning and Funding Your Child’s Education — Elementary and Secondary School