This month, our nation marks the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), signed by President Gerald Ford.
This law represents a landmark civil rights measure that has helped to give all children the opportunity to develop their talents and contribute to their communities. IDEA opened the doors of public schools to millions of children with disabilities.
Before the law was passed, children with disabilities in this country were not guaranteed equal access to a quality education. More than 40 years ago, nearly 1.8 million children with disabilities were excluded from public schools. In 1970, just five years before IDEA was enacted, only one in five children with disabilities had access to a quality education. In some states, many students with both physical and mental disabilities were denied an education—essentially shut out of classrooms across the country.
Education for students, including students with disabilities, has improved significantly since that time. Classrooms have become more inclusive and the future for children with disabilities is brighter. Significant progress has been made toward protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving educational results for students with disabilities.
Today, nearly 62 percent of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms. Early intervention services are now being provided to more than 340,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Before IDEA, these services were not always available. Today, over 6.9 million students with disabilities have access to special education and related services. These services are often designed specifically for students to meet their unique needs.
While tremendous progress has been made over the years, we must continue the hard work to address the challenges that still exist. Although we are able to help many individual students to achieve their goals, we must continue to work at ensuring that all children have the supports they need and to find ways to ensure they can reach their full potential.
For more information, visit the Department’s new website featuring resources developed by our grantees, instructional best practices, assessments, and information on student engagement, school climate, home and school partnerships, and post-school transitions for students with disabilities.
Hannah Smith is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education and a Senior a the University of Missouri.