Targeted Supports for Youth with Disabilities

Beyond the general supports that help any youth with a special health care need access care, more specified actions ensure that youth with disabilities can participate fully in society. Some of these additional supports are required by law.

Accessibility. A framework of inclusion requires more than simply fitting youth with disabilities into existing settings. Often, modifications are needed to ensure that they can access services in medical, educational, and recreational settings. Examples include having information available in Braille or sign language, providing ramp-access to facilities, and providing other types of assistive technology. It also can include taking time to present age-appropriate health information in a way that matches a youth’s cognitive development. Many of these accessibility issues are addressed by one or more federal laws, including ADA and IDEA. Electronic and information technology procured by the federal government must meet Section 508 Standards established by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It requires that certain criteria are met to ensure employees and members of the public with disabilities can access and use software, multimedia products, web-based information, and other electronic and information technology developed or maintained by the federal government.

Education. Federal special education laws address the rights of adolescents with disabilities in educational settings. Depending on the specific nature of a young person’s disability, as well as the judgment of his or her health care provider, school officials, parents or caregivers, and the young person, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a “504 Plan” may be developed. IEPs are provided according to provisions of IDEA, and 504 plans are provided according to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These plans typically include a mix of services, together with regular assessments to track progress toward goals. Adolescents eligible for an IEP must have one or more of 12 qualifying conditions; schools must provide “a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment” that meets their needs. 504 Plans are generally intended for children and youth with less serious disabilities, and subject to fewer formal safeguards, but must also include classroom and other school accommodations appropriate to their unique needs. States and school districts vary greatly in how they interpret these requirements. Although many states meet requirements from the U.S. Department of Education, many need assistance.1


1 U.S. Department of Education. (2020). Determination letters on state implementation of IDEA. back to top