Supporting Students with Disabilities in Chicago, Illinois

The Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) in Chicago, Illinois is committed to meeting the needs of the disabled community. The Public Policy and Public Affairs Unit of MOPD is responsible for identifying and directing the department's legislative priorities, as well as spearheading accessibility policy and compliance initiatives. This unit also works to promote understanding of issues affecting people with disabilities, from high-level initiatives to community outreach and education. The United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) administers the Education for People with Disabilities Act (IDEA), a law that funds special education programs. Each state education agency is responsible for managing IDEA in the state and for distributing funding for special education programs.

The IDEA is a grant law and sets many specific conditions for receiving federal IDEA funds. In addition, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the United States, or by state and local governments, respectively. The Office of Civil Rights deals with accessibility issues related to education; however, there are also resources available to help create accessible websites and digital documents. The IDEA requires that states and local educational agencies (LEAs) have policies and procedures in place to ensure that all children with disabilities who reside in the state and who need special education and related services are identified, located, and evaluated, regardless of the severity of the disability. Every child with a disability must have the opportunity to participate in the regular physical education program available to children without disabilities, unless they are enrolled full time in a separate center or need specially designed physical education as prescribed in their individualized education (IEP) program. In public elementary and secondary schools, Section 504 protections require the provision of free and appropriate public education (FAPE) only if a student actually has a disability that substantially limits an important life activity. The mere fact that a student has a history of disability or is considered disabled is not sufficient, by itself, to activate these protections.