Chapter 7

Know your rights

Everyone has rights, including you!

The word “rights” can mean two things. Sometimes, rights are things that the law gives you. These are called legal rights, and the government has to make sure you get these rights.

The second meaning of “rights” is “things that you should have.” People might say you have the “right” to be happy, but the government doesn’t have to make sure that you are happy.

This chapter of the book will explain what legal rights you have. We will talk about laws that protect people with disabilities. This chapter focuses on rights in the United States of America, but other countries have their own disability rights laws.You can learn more about those at the end of this chapter.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act is also called the ADA. The ADA is a law that gives people with disabilities lots of different rights. People say it is the biggest disability rights law in the United States.

The ADA says that you have a right to accommodations. Some examples of accommodations from the ADA are:

  • Getting captions on a TV show
  • Menus in Braille
  • Bringing your service dog to work
  • An interpreter at the doctor’s office

The ADA gives people with disabilities rights at work. The law says that your boss can’t discriminate against disabled people. Your boss can’t fire you or treat you differently because you have a disability. You can get accommodations at work because of the ADA.

The ADA also gives you rights in places run by the government, such as:

  • Libraries.
  • The post office.
  • City hall.
  • Public transportation, like buses, trains, and subways.

The ADA says you have the right to go inside any place run by the government, and to use any service run by the government.

If a business is open to everyone, the ADA says you have the right to go inside, and to do the same things as everyone else.

For example:

  • If you go to a hairdresser, you have the right to get a haircut.
  • If you go to the movies, you have a right to captions.
  • If you go to a store, you have the right to go inside and buy things.
  • If you go to a restaurant, you have the right to order food.

The ADA says you have the right to communicate in ways that work for you, and to understand what is going on. Phone calls, text messages, and video calls have to be accessible.

The ADA is a very important law that gives people with disabilities the same rights as everyone else.


IDEA is a law that gives rights to students with disabilities, and stands for “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” IDEA is for schools that get money from the government.

Not every student with a disability gets rights from IDEA. Autistic students do get rights from IDEA, but to get these rights, you need a diagnosis.

IDEA says you have the right to:

  • Get a diagnosis for your disability
  • Go to school
  • Go to school for free, like everyone else
  • Learn things in school
  • Learn the same things as everyone else
  • Be in the same classroom as non-disabled students
  • Get the help you need to learn

IDEA says you can get services to help you learn in school. Schools need to make a plan called an IEP for each student with a disability. IEP means Individualized Education Plan. The IEP has to say:

  • What you know how to do right now
  • What you need to learn
  • What your goals at school are for the next year
  • How the school will know if you are learning
  • The services the school will give you
  • Accommodations the school will make for you

Some students don’t end up in the same classrooms as everyone else, or take the same tests as everyone else. If these things happen, the IEP needs to say why.

When you turn 16, you also get a transition plan. It helps you figure out what you will do after high school, and how you’ll meet your goals after high school. You have the transition plan until you are done with school.

Rehabilitation Act and Section 504 rights

There is a law called the Rehabilitation Act, that is called the “Rehab Act” for short. The Rehab Act makes rules for programs the government pays for. Section 504 is the part of the Rehab Act that talks about disability rights.

The Rehab Act says the government can’t discriminate against people with disabilities. If the government pays for something, it has to work for people with disabilities. For example:

  • Government websites have to be accessible.
  • Government buildings have to be accessible.
  • The government can’t discriminate against people with disabilities for jobs.

Places the government gives money to can’t discriminate either. For example, if the government hires a business, the business can’t discriminate.

The government gives some schools money, which means those schools also have to follow the Rehab Act. The school can make Section 504 Plans for disabled students, that say what a student needs to be able to learn. For example, the student might need:

  • An iPad
  • A letterboard
  • Large print
  • Sign language
  • A support person

Some students get Section 504 plans, while other students get IEPs. It depends on the school and the student.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act is another disability rights law, that makes sure people with disabilities have housing rights. It is called the FHA for short. Here are a few rights you get from the FHA:

  • If you want to rent an apartment, landlords can’t say no because of your disability.
  • If you want to buy a house, sellers can’t say no because of your disability.
  • Your landlord has to let you put a ramp at your apartment if you need one.
  • If you have a service dog, your landlord has to let it live with you, even if dogs usually aren’t allowed.


Olmstead v. L.C. was a big court case about living in the community. People just call it “Olmstead” for short.

In 1999, two women named Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson were living in an institution. They wanted to live in the community instead of an institution. They said the ADA gave them the right to live in the community, and they went to the Supreme Court to fight for their rights. The Supreme Court has the final say on how laws work, and they said that Lois and Elaine were right.

Olmstead means that you have a right to live in the community. If the government says you can only get services in an institution, they are wrong. You can get services in the community.

But Olmstead is a court case not a law. That means you have to go to court to get your Olmstead rights. Lots of people are still fighting for their Olmstead rights.

Supported decision-making

Most adults make their own legal decisions, but some people with disabilities have guardians. A guardian can make legal decisions for a person with disabilities. A judge chooses who will be the guardian for a disabled person, but it is usually a parent or family member. Guardians can make choices even if the person with a disability doesn’t like it. This is wrong!

There is something people with disabilities can do instead of getting a guardian, called supported decision-making. Supported decision-making means you get help making decisions, but they are still your decisions. You can choose people called “supporters” to help you make decisions. Supporters do not make the choices for you. You still make your own decisions.

If you have a guardian, you might be able to do supported decision-making instead. Laws about supported decision making are different in every state. Your Protection & Advocacy Agency (P&A) can help you learn more. P&A’s help people with disabilities fight for our rights, and make sure states follow disability laws. There is a P&A in every state.

Chapter 7 Resources