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1.3: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

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    In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA), which guaranteed a free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities in the United States. In 1990, the law was reauthorized and renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Before EHA, many children with disabilities were denied a public education in the United States. Since the signing of EHA, significant progress has been made toward meeting the goal of providing a free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities. In 2021, approximately 7.2 million or 15% of all public-school students received special education and related services (NCES, 2022). IDEA includes the following foundational requirements.

    Free Appropriate Public Education

    Students with disabilities must be given a free appropriate public education (FAPE). FAPE includes education services designed to meet the individual education needs of students with disabilities as adequately as the needs of nondisabled students at no cost to the family.

    Child Find

    States are required to develop procedures for identifying and tracking the number of students who are at risk for delayed development and those with disabilities.

    Nondiscriminatory Evaluation

    A nondiscriminatory evaluation is an evaluation that does not discriminate on the basis of language, culture, and student background and must be provided for each student identified for special education.

    Individualized Education Program

    An IEP is a plan developed to meet the special education needs of students with disabilities.

    Least Restrictive Environment

    The least restrictive environment is the setting most like that of students without disabilities that also meets each student’s educational needs.

    Due Process

    Due process guarantees the right to an impartial hearing if appropriate procedures outlined in the law are not followed and parents or schools believe that special education programs do not meet the student’s educational needs.

    Parent Participation

    Parent participation and shared decision making must be included in all aspects of the identification and education of students with disabilities.

    The Disability Rights Movement

    In the 1960s, the civil rights movement began to take shape, and disability rights advocates saw an opportunity to join forces with other minority groups to demand equal access and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. At the forefront of this fight were parent advocates demanding that their children have the opportunity to attend public schools and have the same opportunities to learn as children who were not disabled.

    In the 1970s, these activists lobbied Congress and marched on Washington to include civil rights language for people with disabilities into the Rehabilitation Act. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act was passed, and for the first time in history, the civil rights of people with disabilities were protected by law.

    The Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) provided equal opportunity for employment within the federal government and in federally funded programs, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of either physical or mental disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act also mandated equal access to public services (e.g., public housing and public transportation) for people with disabilities and the allocation of money for vocational training.

    In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) was passed to guarantee equal access to public education for children with disabilities. This act of legislation specified that every child had a right to an education.

    In the 1980s, disability rights activists lobbied for a consolidation of various pieces of legislation under one civil rights law that would protect the rights of people with disabilities. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, or gender, but people with disabilities were not included in this law.

    In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, ensuring the equal treatment and equal access of people with disabilities to employment opportunities and public accommodations. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, services rendered by state and local governments, places of public accommodation, transportation, and telecommunications services. Unfortunately, people with disabilities still face barriers in our society, but the disability rights movement continues to work toward their empowerment and self-determination (Smiley et al., 2022).

    Activity \(\PageIndex{1}\): Virtual Tour of the Patient No More Exhibit

    Directions: Take a virtual tour of the Patient No More exhibit at the Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability website. This exhibit explores the 1977 "Section 504 Sit-In," when people with disabilities occupied a government building to demand civil rights. This protest paved the way for the ADA and profoundly changed the lives of Americans with and without disabilities. Why do you think it is important to know the history and requirements of federal and state laws concerning people with disabilities?

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Students with disabilities. Condition of education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved August 30, 2022, from

    This page titled 1.3: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Diana Zaleski (Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI)) .

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