History of Special Education

Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act guaranteed civil rights for the disabled in the context of federally funded institutions or any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. It required accommodations in affected schools for the disabled including access to buildings and structures and improved integration into society.

In 1975, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) PL 94-142, (in the 1990 revision, the name was changed to Individuals with Disabilities Education Act below) guaranteed free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. In 1986 EHA was re authorized as PL 99-457, additionally covering infants and toddlers below age 2 with disabilities, and providing for associated Individual Family Service Plans (IFSP), prepared documents to ensure individualized special service delivery to families of respective infants and toddlers.

Providing Americans with disabilities similar protections against discrimination against as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) barred discrimination in employment (Title 1), public services and transportation (Title 2) public accommodations (Title 3), telecommunications (Title 4) and miscellaneous provisions (Title 5). It was a great step in normalizing the lives of the disabled. Title 3 prohibited disability based discrimination in any place of public accommodation with regard to full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations. Public accommodations included most places of education.

In 1990 EHA's name was changed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) PL-101-476. It added individualized transition plans (ITP) for transitioning individuals from secondary school to adult life or post secondary education. Special education coverage was extended to the categories of autism and traumatic brain injury (TBI). In 1997 IDEA was re authorized as PL 105-17 and extended coverage to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), functional behavioral assessments and intervention plans were added, and the ITP's were integrated within IEP's. An additional reauthorization was made in 2004 (below).

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 2001 (ESEA) PL 107-110, more popularly known as the No Child Left Behind Act required accountability for the academic performance of all school children, including those with disabilities. It called for 100% proficiency in reading and math by the year 2012.

The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 (ATA) PL 108-364 provided support for school-to-work transition projects and created loan programs for the purchase of assistive technology (AT) devices.

The 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act reauthorization PL 108-446 changed learning disability identification procedures, required high qualification standards for special education teachers, stipulated that all students with disabilities participate in annual state or district testing or documented alternate assessments, and allowed in response to activities related to weapons, drugs or violence that a student could be placed in interim alternative educational setting.

Some student disability protections not covered by IDEA may be still covered under Section 504 or ADA due to a broader definitions of what constitutes a disability.