In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and laws that affect students with disabilities, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
The Congressional Research Service has a very handy reference titled "Laws Affecting Students with Disabilities: Preschool Through Postsecondary Education."
From the report:
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) each play a significant part in federal efforts to support the education of individuals with disabilities. These statutory frameworks, while overlapping, differ in scope and in their application to students with disabilities. As a result, when students with disabilities transition between levels of schooling, the accommodations and services they must be provided under federal law may change. For example, while the IDEA, the ADA, and Section 504 potentially apply to children with disabilities from preschool through 12th grade (P-12), only the ADA and Section 504 apply to students in an institution of higher education. More generally, application of the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA to students with disabilities is determined by (1) the definition of “disability” employed by each framework; (2) the mechanisms employed under each law to determine whether a student has a qualifying disability; and (3) the adaptations, accommodations, and services that must be provided to students with disabilities under each law.
The IDEA incorporates a categorical definition of “disability,” identifying a covered “child with a disability” as any “child” having at least one of 13 conditions specifically categorized in the act. Thus, to qualify for services under the IDEA a student of qualifying age must satisfy two requirements. First, the student must have a documented disability that falls in one of the categories enumerated in the IDEA, as further specified by ED’s implementing regulation. And second, as a result of that disability the student must require “special education and related services” in order to benefit from public education. Only if the student meets both criteria will he or she be eligible to receive the principal benefit of the act: specially designed instruction or special education in which the content or the delivery of the instruction is adapted to the child’s individual needs, detailed in a plan known as an individualized education program (IEP).
Sections 504 and the ADA draw on a common definition of “disability,” one that is substantially broader than the categorical definition found in the IDEA. Under both laws, an “individual with a disability” includes “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.” This definition, unlike the IDEA’s, is not restricted to the educational context. And also unlike the definition used in IDEA, the definition found in Section 504 and the ADA is broadly functional, protecting individuals with any “impairment” affecting a bodily or intellectual function—like seeing, hearing, walking, or thinking.
Footnote 33: Compare 20 U.S.C. § 1401(3)(A)(i) (defining a “child with a disability” as one who has “intellectual disabilities, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance . . . , orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities”) with 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.8(c)(1)-(13) (enumerating these as 13 distinct categories of disabilities covered by the IDEA).