People with disabilities have important rights. They can’t always stand up for themselves, so there are laws to protect them. As a parent, you need to know about these laws and the different ways they protect your child. This includes rights with their education, housing, medical care, jobs, services, and more.
This page has basic facts about these rights and protections. It also has tips on what to do if your child’s rights aren’t being respected. And it links to other places where you can find out more. We hope it can help your child get what they need. We have another page with stories from parents who tried to protect their children’s rights and a blog from a parent, too.
There are laws to make sure people with disabilities are protected. In fact, people with physical or intellectual disabilities are a “protected class.” This means that the law protects them from being treated unfairly (i.e., discrimination). Disability laws are complicated and sometimes change. The list below explains some of the most important rights and protections that exist. Disability Rights Texas has more details on these topics. There are links to their pages and handouts in the list.
Children or adults with disabilities have rights with:
If you want to know more, here are some of the main laws behind the rights listed above:
Many programs, services, and hospitals also have their own lists of rights for the people they serve. You can look for or ask for these when your child has their intake (i.e., first visit) or at any other time. For example, when your child first gets to a hospital or starts services with a state program, you might get this kind of list. Or it might be written on a big poster on the wall. If you don’t see it, you can always ask.
Laws like HIPAA and FERPA are there to protect your child’s private medical or education information. There are times when sharing this information can help. If the people working with your child can talk or share files, they might work together better. But there are also times when sharing information might hurt your child or family. People might use it in ways that make you uncomfortable.
To share details about on your child’s diagnosis or treatment, you must sign a release of information. If your child is age 18 or older, they or their legal guardian can sign. If you want a certain program or person to share information, ask them for their form.
The parents and lawyers we talked to said that it’s a good idea to be careful about what you agree to share. It doesn’t have to be everything. If a professional’s questions worry you, ask what they really need to know to help your family. It’s also a good idea to ask who will see what is shared and why. You can always end or tear up the release later. That won’t take back things already shared. But it does mean that new information must be kept private.
Also, you have the right to ask for your child’s files at any time to see what’s in them. Or, if your child is 18 years or older, they or their legal guardian can ask.
If you think that someone is violating (not following) your child’s legal rights, don’t be afraid to do something. You can stand up for your child.
To get started, write down what happened. Include as many details as you know. This helps in case you have to work with different people or prove what happened. Also, sometimes fighting for your rights can take a long time. It might be hard to remember all of the details later.
Next, see if you can figure out which of your child’s rights were violated. The lists and laws above might help. If you’re not sure, that’s OK.
Here is a list of different people and programs who might be able to help:
Connect with other parents to ask if they had the same sort of problem – and what they did. Our If Your Child’s Rights Are Violated page and blog on disability rights have parent stories that might give you ideas too.
It can make you upset or angry if you think your child isn’t being treated fairly. Or getting what they need.
Sometimes, a simple conversation solves the problem. Other times, you might choose to fight for their rights. And sometimes you’ll decide not to pick a battle, but put your energy somewhere else. It can be hard to know what to do when. You can talk to other parents, listen to your child, and get more information. Remember, there are always things you can try.
There are ways to have your voice heard to help your child – and the next family.