What the ADA Means for People with Cerebral Palsy


By Emerson Arehart

In the United States, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) can play an important role in the lives of people with cerebral palsy (CP). Knowing your rights under the ADA is an important step in making sure CP doesn’t limit you or your child’s potential – especially at school and in the workplace. But how does the law actually work, and how can it help you or your children?

The purpose of the ADA is to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and to make sure such individuals have the same opportunity for full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency as everyone else. To accomplish this, the law requires that certain “reasonable accommodations” be made for individuals with disabilities.

The ADA Broadens its Scope

In 2008, the ADA was updated to expand the scope of the term disabled, which now includes people who have a condition interfering with major bodily functions. Coverage is not specific to certain medical conditions, but rather is assessed on an individual basis. Most individuals with CP are covered by the ADA – if even one “major life activity” is affected. Major life activities include taking care of one’s self, communicating, thinking, performing manual tasks and being mobile. Since the 2008 update, any condition which interferes with the operation of bodily functions, including the immune and digestive systems, is also included.

Determining whether or not someone qualifies under the ADA must be done in a quick and reasonable manner – so employers and agencies don’t spin their wheels on making decisions. This is good news for families who previously faced major hurdles in proving their eligibility for the ADA.

Teaching Schools to Recognize Disability

The ADA is a general piece of legislation that applies broadly – including to public and private education. Many aspects relating to schools are covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a separate piece of legislation – but the ADA does apply to both public and private schools. For example, ADA protection requires that reasonable accommodations be made for students and parents with disabilities, including for events such as parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and graduation ceremonies.

For families of children with CP, this means they have the right to reasonable accommodations for their child’s disability – and, when it comes to assessing a child’s limitations, decisions have to be made quickly, rather than being drawn out into long and frustrating discussions about the nature of the child’s limitations and needs. And, best of all, CP families have the right to participate in and celebrate the milestones of growing up together, just like everyone else.

For more detailed information on how ADA applies to your family, consult these resources:



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