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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.

Meet Pat Howey

Pat HoweyPatricia Howey has supported families of children with disabilities since 1985. She has a specific learning disability and became involved in special education when her youngest child entered kindergarten. Pat has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who have a variety of disabilities and she has used her experience to advocate for better special education services for several of them.

Pat is a charter member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), serving on its Board of Directors from 2000 through 2003. She has been a Commissioner on the Tippecanoe (County) Human Relations Committee, a graduate of Leadership Lafayette and Partners in Policymaking, and a member of the Wrightslaw Speakers Bureau. She has been on the faculty of the College of William and Mary Law School’s Institute of Special Education Advocacy since its inception in 2011.

Pat has an A.S. and a B.A. in Paralegal Studies from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is an Indiana Registered Paralegal and an affiliate member of the Indiana Bar and the American Bar Associations.

Pat began her advocacy career as a volunteer for the Task Force on Education for the Handicapped (now InSource), Indiana’s Parent Training and Information Center. In 1990, she opened her advocacy practice and served families throughout Indiana by representing them at IEP meetings, mediation, and due process hearings.

In 2017, Pat closed her advocacy practice and began working on a contract basis as a special education paralegal. Attorneys in Indiana, Texas, and California contracted with her to review documents, spot issues, draft due process complaints, prepare for hearings, and assist at hearings. In January 2019, she became an employee of the Connell Michael Kerr law firm, owned by Erin Connell, Catherine Michael, and Sonja Kerr. Her duties have now expanded to assisting with federal court cases.

"Changing the World -- One Child at at Time.

Contact Information

Patricia L. Howey, B.A., IRP
POB 117
West Point, Indiana 47992-0117

Created: 11/30/17
Revised: 06/28/19

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