Senate Passes Bill to Increase Higher Education Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Honoring the 30thAnniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

BOSTON (08/17/20) – The Massachusetts Senate recently passed legislation that removes existing barriers for students with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities so they can attend public institutions of higher education. The bill, which passed with bipartisan support, honors the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 30 years ago by President George H.W. Bush. 

Under the bill,An Act Creating Higher Education Opportunities for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, students would not be required to pass the MCAS, have a high school diploma, meet minimum requirements for academic courses, or take college entrance exams in order to access inclusive academic, social, and career development opportunities on college campuses with their peers. In addition, the bill also makes clear that strengthening access to higher education for students with disabilities is a goal of the Commonwealth’s higher education system.

“The passage of this bill in honor of the 30thanniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is an important step in opening more doors for people with disabilities in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington). “I applaud my Senate colleagues and the many schools districts and higher education institutions who partnered on this important bill, which seeks to create a more inclusive Commonwealth for all and ensures that all students – regardless of ability – have equal access to quality higher education.”

Building on the success of the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) grant program, the bill codifies that program, which enables school districts and public institutions of higher education to partner together to offer inclusive concurrent enrollment initiative options for students with disabilities ages 18 to 22. Since 2007, over 1,200 students with disabilities have taken advantage of the opportunity to participate academically and socially in the life of participating colleges in Massachusetts through the MAICEI program. 

In response to the challenges facing school districts and public higher education institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate bill ensures no additional costs are placed on a school district beyond the existing obligations already required under state and federal special education law. 

Furthermore, the bill also ensures that colleges are not required to bear any additional costsof providing individual supports and services for students with severe intellectual disabilities, severe autism spectrum disorders, or other severe developmental disabilities who attend the college through the MACEI initiative.

Finally, the bill delays the implementation of the requirements placed on our school districts and higher education institutions within the bill until the 2021–2022 school year.

The bill now moves to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for consideration.