Childcare and the ADA

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Disclaimer: While this resource may contain legal information, it is not intended to provide legal advice.  For specific legal questions related to the ADA and child care, contact the US Department of Justice ADA Information Line at (800) 514-0301.

Boy hanging on to a hand railWhat is the ADA?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law enacted in 1990, guarantees that children with disabilities can not be excluded from “public accommodations” (private businesses including preschools, child care centers, out-of-school time programs or family child care homes) simply because of a disability.

Definitions
You may not like the word “disability” because it can give a negative impression of a child’s abilities.  But the ADA uses the term disability to help prevent discrimination based upon a person’s differing abilities.

In ADA language, disability means a “physical or mental impairment” that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.

  • Physical impairment - includes but is not limited to asthma, blindness, deafness, seizures, heart disease, or cerebral palsy
  • Mental impairment - includes but is not limited to developmental delay, behavior disorders, or learning disabilities
  • Major life activities - includes breathing, hearing, seeing, speaking, walking, using of arms and legs, learning and playing.  Playing is the work of children!

Providers, children and parents benefit when all children learn and play together
Every child is unique.  Including children with special needs in child care reflects our larger community where people with and without disabilities live, work, and play together.  Inclusion contributes to acceptance, improved socialization, and understanding of individual differences.

Benefits of inclusion for child care providers:

  • Access to a helpful network of professionals
  • Improved knowledge about child development
  • Potential tax credits or deductions

The ADA requires that child care facilities:

  • Make reasonable modifications to policies and practices to integrate children with disabilities into the program unless doing so would constitute a fundamental alteration of the program.
  • Provide auxiliary aids and services needed for effective communication with children with disabilities, when doing so would not constitute an undue burden.
  • Cannot exclude children with disabilities from their programs unless their presence would pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others or require a fundamental alteration of the program.

Whether you are a parent or child care professional, there is plenty of information out there to help you:

  • The Center for Children with Special Needs has compiled a list of resources we find useful.
  • Please check our Childcare and the ADA Reference List for links to more information available online. 
  • This information is also available as a PDF booklet in both low and high resolution for your printing needs.

Related Links:


Information in Child Care and the ADA was recommended and reviewed in 2001 by representatives from the following organizations in Washington State:  Department of Health Children with Special Health Care Needs Program Department of Social and Health Services, The ARC of King County, Parent to Parent, Developmental Disabilities Council, Public Health Seattle-King County, Northwest Business Disability and Technical Assistance Center, Washington State Childcare Resource and Referral Network, Northwest’s Child, Medical Home Training and Resource Center, and the Center for Children with Special Needs.  Reviews were completed in 2007 and 2008 by the Washington State Department of Health Children with Special Health Care Needs Program and the Center for Children with Special Needs.