Difference Between ADA and IDEA (With Table)

Disabilities are not uncommon all over the world. The term disability is dominantly preoccupied with an individual’s abnormalities and functional limitations. Seeing this discrimination on a daily basis, disabled people started forming organisations. A lot of these people became activists highlighting the socio-cultural, economic and political barriers to inclusion that the disabled people have to experience day – to – day. The movement of the specially-abled, just like various other social movements, drew the large scale attention of people and political parties. Various countries, seeing disabled people fight for their rights, have enacted different acts to help the specially – abled individuals. The 2 main acts enacted in America regarding the same are IDEA and ADA.


The main difference between ADA and IDEA is that ADA is for colleges and workplaces where IDEA applies to students only. Instead of analysing the “success” and “failures” of ADA, (American Disabilities Act, which turned 13 years old in 2020,) and IDEA, (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, which turned 45 in 2020), till date, we should see how unique these two acts are in the sense of the American nation. Even though it may take quite some generations to completely fulfil the purpose of these acts, they are evolving in the American context.

ADA is short for American Disabilities Act. This act was passed in 1990 after a lot of debate, compromise and negotiation. The act includes various provisions including topics like employment, commercial facilities, public accommodations, governmental programmes, transport, telecommunications and other requirements. The act enlists types of disabilities that have been claimed making it easier for the council to identify the provisions to be used in cases relating to specific mental and physical conditions.

IDEA is short for Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act. It was passed in 2004. It was signed into law by American President George W. Bush. The regulations relating to the Act were officially implemented by the United States Department of Education in August 2006.  The main goal of this act is to improve the outcome of life for disabled students. This act aims at providing proper education to disabled students alongside the students who are not disabled. This is done to eradicate discrimination amongst children, provide a fair chance to disable children to secure a good future for themselves and to help disabled children grow.

Comparison Table Between ADA and IDEA

Parameters of ComparisonIDEAADA
Areas of governance
K – 12 systems in AmericaColleges and workplaces in America
What does the act ensure?Success in educationEqual access of education to everyone

The type of law
Educational LawCivil Rights Statute

Services provided
Evaluation and special accommodationsReasonable accommodations

Who all do the acts cover?
Students who require special educational facilities till class 12All qualified people with disabilities or people who are discriminated against because of their relationship with someone.
Based on what factor do people get their rights under these acts?Entitlement of being a disabled personEligibility under Section 504 or any person affected with a deadly contagious of noncontagious disease.

What is ADA?

The American Disabilities Act is the most significant anti – discriminatory legislation passed in America. It protects people with mental and physical disabilities from being discriminated against in public places, government facilities and programmes and private places of employment. Under this act, all private employers are obliged to give proper justification if they refuse to employ any disabled human being who is otherwise qualified for the job.

What is IDEA?

The aim of IDEA is to try and improve the future of specially – abled children. The ways in which this act has done it or tried to do the same is by emphasizing the substantive needs and requirements of a process of special education. They have altered eligibility criteria’s and have aligned the provisions of this act with NCLB’s provisions like AYP, so as to clearly ensure that the act benefits a large number of people and the beneficiaries can secure a good life for themselves with the help of the act.  The children entitled disabled under this act include physically disabled children, mentally retarded, hearing impairments, visual, speech or language impairment, emotional impairment, autistic children, traumatic brain injury and other health impairments.

Main Differences Between ADA and IDEA

  1. In IDEA there is more institutional autonomy whereas in ADA there is more student autonomy.
  2. The mission of IDEA is to provide free, proper and public education to everyone in an environment that is not restrictive. On the other hand, mission of ADA is to prevent disability-based discrimination and extend coverage regarding employment to specially-abled individuals.
  3. Different curricular and outcome modifications are mandated by law in case of IDEA whereas these are prohibited by law in case of ADA.
  4. Under IDEA, no parent or school has to pay money or prove disability regarding the child’s education till class 12. The child rights are given back to the parents when the child turns 18. Under ADA, the child needs to give his self-identity to the institution and provide appropriate documents for disability.
  5. IDEA focuses on diagnostic labels provided by labs or hospitals, whereas ADA focusses on level of functional relating impairment.
  6. IDEA applies to all public schools from class KG to 12, or till the age of 21 if the individual has enrolled under Public Secondary Programme. ADA applies to all public and private educational institutes, employments, transportation, telecommunications and accommodations department regardless of whether they receive federal funding or not.


Even though both of these acts are for specially – abled individuals, they cover two very different and varied age – groups of people. These acts were issued at very different time periods according to the nation’s particular needs and developments happening as a result of globalisation. ADA and IDEA combined together help in the overall development of a disabled individual in the most ways possible.


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