A Parent's Guide to the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA) and Child Care
What is the Americans with Disabilities
Alicia is a four-year-old who desperately wants to play with
children her own age, and her mother, about to return to work,
is eager to find just the right child care for her. Born with
Spina Bifida, the second most common birth defect after Down
syndrome, Alicia doesn't run or jump or use the toilet on
her own, but she is able to enjoy social environments and
she can walk on her own, even though the doctors said she
never would. She is a bright, capable child, more alike than
different from her peers.
Alicia, like thousands of children across the country, is
a child with a disability in need of child care. Caring for
children like Alicia in a regular child care setting is not
new and, in many cases, is not particularly different than
caring for other children in care. Since its inception, child
care has always focused on the needs of individual children.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil
rights law. The Act states that people with disabilities are
entitled to equal rights in employment, state and local public
services, and public accommodations such as preschools, child
care centers, and family child care homes.
Whom does the ADA protect? The ADA protects
any child or adult who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially
limits one or more major life activities such as speaking,
seeing, learning, walking, etc.;
- has a history of this type of impairment (such as
a child with cancer now in remission);
- is "regarded" as having the impairment (such as
a child with facial scarring who has no limitations,
but is stigmatized);
- is "associated with" any of the persons described
above (so that a child seeking admission to a child
care program cannot be denied simply because her brother
has tested positive for HIV or because her mother
uses a wheelchair).
impact does the ADA have on child care programs?
As of January 26, 1992, child care programs, both family child
care homes and child care centers, regardless of whether or
not they receive public subsidies, can no longer discriminate
on the basis of disability. Instead, the ADA demands a "new
way of thinking" in which the accommodations required by the
individual are weighed against the resources available to
the child care program to make any necessary accommodations.
This evaluation is to be done on a case-by-case basis.
What exactly does the ADA require child
care programs to do ?
The ADA requires that child care programs consider making
changes in three aspects of their programs.
First, they must make reasonable modifications in their policies,
practices, and procedures in order to accommodate the individual
with a disability unless the modification would fundamentally
alter the nature of the program and there are no reasonable
Examples of modifications
- eliminating prohibitions against serving children
with disabilities in admission policies;
- eliminating per se restrictions which prevent children
with disabilities who are not toilet trained from
being considered for admission;
- providing alternative foods at lunch and snack time
for children with food allergies;
- making a schedule change for a child who takes
medication and/or naps in the morning.
Secondly, child care programs are required to provide "auxiliary
aids and services" (which are services and devices designed
to ensure effective communication, such as interpreters, audiotapes,
large print materials, etc.) for those with disabilities affecting
hearing, vision, or speech, unless to do so would fundamentally
alter the nature of the program or would impose an undue burden
in the program and there are no alternative steps that can
be taken. An undue burden means significant difficulty or
Examples of auxiliary aids
and services might include:
- purchasing large print books;
- learning some sign language or hiring an interpreter;
- putting a Braille label on the cubby of a child
who is blind.
Finally, architectural barrier, which prevents access to
services, must be removed if removal is readily achievable
means easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without
much difficulty or expense. When barrier removal is not readily
achievable, programs must make the services available through
alternative methods, if the alternative methods are themselves
What types of personal assistance
and devices must the child care program staff provide?
The ADA makes it clear that child care programs are not required
to provide children with personal devices such as wheelchairs,
eyeglasses, or hearing aids. However, child care programs
are required to provide services such as assistance in eating,
toileting, or dressing when they are ordinarily provided to
other children in care.
What safety considerations are taken into account in determining
whether a child will be admitted or maintained in a child
Child care programs may refuse to admit a child if they can
document that the child will pose a direct threat to the health
and safety of others in the child care setting. This is a
very narrow exception. Additionally, if the threat or risk
can be eliminated without fundamentally altering the nature
of the program, the child must be admitted or maintained in
Is it legal to be charged extra for the costs of caring
for a child with disabilities?
No. The ADA is very clear that child care programs may not
charge families with children with disabilities more that
other families are charged to cover any increased costs the
program incurs in making accommodations. To help defray any
additional cost, child care programs are allowed to spread
the cost to all families in the program.
How can I help a child
care program meet my child's needs?
- share with the program all you can about what you
think is important for the child care staff to know
in caring for your child;
- maintain communication with your provider throughout
the time your child is in care;
- facilitate communication between your child are
provider an any other professionals who are helping
your child (your written consent will be necessary);
- let the child care program know about any community
agencies or state or national organizations which
provide resources and information regarding the type
of disability or disabilities your child has; and
- assist the program in identifying any public or
private subsidies, grants, or loans available to support
If I feel that a child care program is not complying with
the requirements of the ADA, what can I do?
First, let the child care program know what your concerns
are, and provide them with information about the legal requirements
of the ADA. If you are still unable to get satisfaction, you
might seek to mediate the dispute using a community meditation
service. Alternatively, you have two options:
You may hire a private attorney to bring an action against
the program, or you can file a complaint with the Attorney
General at the U.S. Department of Justice.
If you file a private action, you are entitled to a court
order to stop the discrimination. If the Attorney General
brings the suit, he/she may seek monetary damages as well
as civil penalties ($50,000 for the first violation; $100,000
for any subsequent violation).
Selected Maryland Resources
The Arc of Maryland (formerly Association for Retarded
Citizens of Maryland)
49 Old Solomon's Island Road
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone: (410) 974-6139
Office Of Child Care
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Phone: (410) 767-0335
Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council
217 E. Redwood St.
Baltimore, MD 21202
Phone: (410) 767-3670
Maryland Infants & Toddlers Program
200 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
1 (800) 535-0182 to obtain the telephone number for your local
Selected National Resources
ADA Information Center
451 Hungerford Dr.
Rockville, MD 20850
Phone: (800) 949-4232 or (301) 217-0124
Child Care Law Center
221 Pine Street
San Francisco, CA 94104
Phone: (415) 394-7144