ALTA - Academic Language Therapy Association
Federal Laws & Website

Federal Laws & Website

Two federal laws which may directly impact students with dyslexia are the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


The Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act offers individualized educational services, planned by a teacher certified in Special Education. Services are available to those students who qualify, and whose parents agree to placement in Special Education. Students qualify for Special Education services through an evaluation process. The identification of a learning disability is based on a comparison of a student's potential and academic achievement. Eligibility for Special Education is then established through a statistical discrepancy between these scores. Qualification standards are set by each state according to the way they plan to balance regular and specialized services for their students, and approved by the U. S. Department of Education.

It helps to understand the original purpose of this law. Prior to the enactment of this legislation in the early 1970s, children who were so severely handicapped that they were not able to function within the regular classroom actually had been excluded from public education. The law extended free and appropriate public education to all school-aged children, and required schools to provide assistance and services necessary for acquiring an education, based on the potential of each individual. Therefore, parameters for qualifying were purposely drawn rather tightly, and services were restricted to those students whose learning or physical needs could be shown to be beyond the scope of a traditional classroom,

One answer to this challenge was to teach specialists about various handicapping conditions and to introduce them to some approaches for working with exceptional children. The teacher with Special Education certification is trained in techniques and strategies to accommodate and rehabilitate the student's disability. Services may be delivered directly bythe Special Education teacher, and/or by the regular classroom teacher, following an Individual Education Plan designed and guided by the specialist. This Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.) should be a prescriptive and/or descriptive set of tasks, activities, accommodations, and expected achievement levels based on findings from test results and careful observation of the student. A standard checklist without specific notations or adjustments for that particular student is not usually sufficient to serve the student's distinctive needs.

There is no prescribed curriculum within Special Education guidelines because the Individual Education Plan is designed by the specialist for each individual student. It is expected to be a customized comprehensive guide for the student's total education, or at least to be a complete outline of educational requirements within the area of difficulty. Therefore, it is important to make inquiry about the precise curriculum that will be used when a student with a learning disability in reading is served within Special Education.

Training in a specialized curriculum for any one skill or content area is not a requirement for the Special Educator's certification. This person is recognized as a specialist in children with disabilities, and is regarded as an expert in planning and implementing accommodations by classroom teachers who depend upon this detailed guidance. Some teachers further prepare themselves through additional training in a specialized curriculum in order to fully meet the needs of students with difficulties in a basic skill. If a curriculum designed especially for dyslexia, or a Certified Academic Language Therapist, is unavailable in Special Education, the specialist should recommend that the student be placed in the Dyslexia Program in Regular Education.

Students who do not qualify statistically for Special Education should receive appropriate and effective instruction in regular education, using a systematic curriculum planned according to state curriculum guidelines. In addition, students should be provided accommodations in the regular classroom under the protection of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a statute designed to protect persons with disabilities from discrimination in any program or activity that receives federal funding.

This Section of the Act specifically addresses education, and provides universal educational opportunity and access to programs despite any handicapping condition, or the perception of a handicap by the student, educators, or others. According to the Act, " "Handicapped person" means any person who (i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment." Further clarification stipulates '''specific learning disabilities" under mental or psychological disorders, and "learning" as a major life activity.

A spokesperson for the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, suggested that identification of students needing protection under this statute does not necessarily always follow the traditional concept of a "qualification" process. Formal testing is not required. In fact, it was suggested that instead of the question, "Does the student qualify for 504?", it might be more appropriate to ask, "'Does he / she need accommodations?" In fact, the spokesperson extended this concept to the question, "Do you believe he / she needs assistance?" This last question is consistent with the Act's extension of "handicapped" to 'perception' of handicapped."

Such students must not be excluded, on the basis of the handicap, from participation in any program or activity which receives or benefits from Federal financial assistance. Services "must afford equal opportunity to obtain the same result, gain the same benefit, or to reach the same level of achievement as those same programs for the nonhandicapped students." This does not mean that the services are required to produce the identical result or level of achievement, but must provide equal opportunity for success. Services provided to handicapped students must be "as effective as those provided to the nonhandicapped." Equally effective services might not be identical, but must be equivalent, to the services for nonhandicapped students. This may necessitate adjustments to regular programs, and/or provision of different programs or methods.

These students must be provided a "free appropriate public education . . . . . . regardless of the nature or severity of the person's handicap." Services should be "designed to meet individual educational needs as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped persons are met . . . without cost to the handicapped person . . . except for those fees that are imposed on nonhandicapped persons . . . "

Just as the Rehabilitation Act ensures access for the handicapped to buildings and institutions of society, Section 504 specifically ensures the student's access to the educational programs within those buildings and institutions, while preventing discrimination in the way the programs are chosen, offered, and implemented.

In addition to the Federal Laws, some states have statutes that address instruction for students with dyslexia by stipulating definite and precise parameters for programs provided for this population. Typically, the state requirements complement the federal requirements to provide a combined set of guidelines which should produce comprehensive and complete reading instruction and support.

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