In the state of Washington, 12% of students aged 3 – 18 have been identified with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA.) More than 23% of adults in Washington have a disability. To serve every child and be inclusive of all families, PTAs must pay close attention to whether meetings and events are accessible by children and adults with disabilities and provide appropriate supports and accommodations to their community members. PTAs must also comply with federal and state laws around disability accommodation.
There are two primary laws that govern accommodations for individuals with disabilities: ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and WLAD (Washington’s Law Against Discrimination.) We will address some of the most common questions about these laws and how they apply to PTA below.
Are PTAs required to provide accommodations for individuals with disabilities?
A PTA is likely required by law to provide some sort of accommodation to an individual with a disability to allow effective participation at PTA events or meetings held in school facilities.
A school district may be required to provide an ADA accommodation for certain events. Given the potential liability for ADA or WLAD violations, the PTA should handle any requests for accommodation at an event seriously but with the understanding that the school district may ultimately bear responsibility for providing access. PTAs should work closely with school and district administrators when these questions arise. If a PTA has contracts with schools or districts for facility use, it should review those contracts to see if any obligations are placed on the organization to provide ADA accessibility; however, PTAs may be considered to be “operating” a public facility even when no formal contract exists.
How do we know that someone has a disability? Do they need to provide proof?
Individuals with a disability may self-identify, or families may identify their students. There is no requirement for proof or documentation.
How do PTAs know what they must provide? Does a PTA have to provide anything that is requested?
The PTA must provide auxiliary aids and services without cost to the individual in need of the services but is generally free to decide what services to use. Where a specific aid or service will result in an “undue financial and administrative burden,” the PTA may choose a less burdensome option if it still provides access to a disabled individual.
When a PTA is required to provide some sort of auxiliary aid or service to an individual with a disability, it should discuss and document what aids the individual requires and why the organization chose to offer any specific service if different from what the disabled person requested.
How does a PTA decide what constitutes an “undue burden”?
PTAs must discuss each request individually, in consideration of the PTA’s specific financial and volunteer resources, to determine what accommodation will be offered. This is not a choice about whether an accommodation will be offered at all, it is a choice about which accommodation both meets the needs of the individual and is within the resources of the PTA. This decision should be documented.
How will our PTA pay for this?
It is recommended that a PTA keep a budget line item for potential expenses related to accommodation. Programs and events should be planned with the understanding that there may be accessibility-related expenses.
Can you give our PTA more information about the laws referenced here?
The primary guarantee against nondiscrimination is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA.) The ADA broadly prohibits discrimination by public and private entities. Public entities, such as schools and districts, are prohibited from engaging in discrimination by Title II of the ADA, while private entities, such as PTAs or other businesses are prohibited from discriminating by Title III of the ADA. Title III provides that “[n]o individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” The term “public accommodation” is defined in 12 categories that the courts tend to construe liberally.
Washington state also prohibits discrimination through the Washington Law Against Discrimination, or “WLAD.” This law is broader than the ADA; most of the time, a PTA will be subject to the ADA, which specifies that both “educational institutions” and “schools of special instruction” fall within its reach.
A PTA may also be required to provide disability services under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Entities that receive federal funds, such as schools, are required to comply with Section 504, including limiting the use of their facilities to those organizations that do not discriminate. Given the public nature of schools and their heavy reliance on federal money, most facility use agreements will likely include language that prohibits discrimination by a user of a school facility, such as the PTA.