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Protecting Students with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education
by Pat Howey
, Advocate

At least two federal laws provide protection for your child at the postsecondary level. There may be other state and/or local laws that also provide protection.

To assist your child in learning about her civil rights contact:

Section 504 and the ADA

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provide slightly different protections.

Your child must become familiar with both, as the ADA will follow her into the workplace after her postsecondary education.

Section 504 is a civil rights law and is intended to protect your child against discrimination.


As a parent, it is important for you to understand is that your child is considered to be an adult. You have no right to advocate for her at the postsecondary level.

Your child should check with an experienced civil rights attorney to determine whether she can designate you to act as her advocate.

I strongly encourage all parents to help their special needs children to learn self-advocacy skills during their high school years so that they will be prepared for life after high school. In some cases, your child may not be diagnosed until after high school.

However, it is not too late for her to learn self-advocacy skills. If there is a Partners in Policymaking group in her area, that is an excellent program for learning self-advocacy skills.


At the postsecondary level, the school is not automatically responsible for providing any services or accommodations.

Your child is responsible for identifying herself to postsecondary staff and asking for assistance and reasonable accommodations. Therefore, any letters you write or any communications you have with postsecondary school staff will possibly be ignored and may even be unread.

Another resource that may help your child is your state's Vocational Rehabilitation agency.

Vocational Rehabilitation provides evaluation and assistance to adults. This agency may be able to assist your child with services at the postsecondary level. You may want to suggest that your child go to Vocational Rehabilitation and ask for evaluation and possible assistance and/or services to help her succeed at the postsecondary level.

You'll find additional resources on Wrightslaw's page, College: Continuing and Higher Education.

Discrimination: Section 504 and ADA AA.

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About Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPat Howey is an advocate who has helped parents obtain special education services and resolve special education disputes. Read more of Pat's answers to questions submitted by people just like you in Ask the Advocate.

As a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau, Pat provides training for parents, educators, and others who want to ensure that children receive quality special education services.

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Contact Information
Pat Howey
Special Education Consulting
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117
Website: patriciahowey.com
Email: specialedconsulting@gmail.com

Created: 11/30/17

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