How does the law protect people with special needs and disabilities?
There are federal and state laws that protect disabled individuals. One example is Section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (Section 504). Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education. These laws are civil rights based, and give a cause of action based upon a violation of the civil rights of a disabled individual.
There is also the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The U.S. attorney general has responsibility for publishing regulations implementing the requirements of title II (state and local government services) and title III (public accommodations and commercial facilities) of the ADA to assist disabled individuals and to to clarify the meaning and interpretation of the ADA definition of “disability” to ensure that the definition would be broadly construed and applied without extensive analysis.
Why should someone with special needs or disabilities need a personal lawyer?
Unfortunately, the federal and state laws are not always followed correctly. There is major pushback because of the cost to the federal and state government, schools or individuals to make the necessary accommodations. A lawyer who understands all the laws and who can explain them to the entity, and who is willing to go to court if necessary to enforce the person’s rights, is necessary. The law is complex and interrelated. Most people (and even some attorneys who don’t focus in this area) might not understand the details and therefore can’t enforce the rules.
In what situations would a disability/special needs lawyer be necessary?
Some school districts are superb in their understanding of Section 504 and ADA laws and follow the rules without parents needing an advocate. Other school districts might fight families about providing the proper accommodations, like an aid in the school, enrollment in a special school better suited for the child, or the transportation to the other school.
Another area is for eligibility for public benefits. There are financial government benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) through the Social Security Administration, and Medicaid benefits through the joint federal/state programs. Both of these programs have strict asset and income requirements and you need an attorney specializing in the federal and state financial programs in order to obtain benefits without running afoul of the laws. Special bank accounts and trusts are available for the purpose of asset and income protection, but the rules are complex and interrelated. The proper trust or account vehicle must be used in the right circumstances. Plus, if benefits are denied, special skills are required to make the needed appeals through the proper agencies and courts.
A special needs attorney can be very important to a disabled person and his or her family. When called into an issue at the start, the law can be enforced for the benefit of all.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. Laurie was selected a Super Lawyer for 2019. She is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation and the Ohio State Bar Association and an accredited attorney for the preparation, presentation and prosecution of claims for veteran’s benefits before the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). She practices in the areas of Elder Law, Medicaid, VA and Disability Planning, and Estate and Trust Planning and Administration.