You’re probably aware that, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, workplaces must make accommodations for adults with disabilities. However, there is an analogous law that requires educational institutions to make accommodations for their students. Passed in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees a free, appropriate public education to children with disabilities. Further, IDEA ensures that eligible children receive special education and other services as needed. The law also helps give parents a voice in their children’s education.
IDEA covers thirteen categories of disabilities, ranging from deafness and blindness to the catch-all category of “other health impairments,” which encompasses conditions from leukemia to ADHD. Under IDEA, states must enact regulations to carry out the federal law and ensure that students receive at least the protections guaranteed by IDEA. However, in order to receive the accommodations and services offered by IDEA, a student must show that his or her disability affects the ability to learn under the educational program otherwise offered by the school. The student must be evaluated; once the evaluation is complete, the student’s family and school collaborate on creating an individualized education program (IEP) delineating the services and accommodations that the student will receive in a given academic year. An IEP must be revisited and evaluated every year to determine that the student is receiving all the accommodations needed, and only the accommodations needed.
This law has been an important tool in spreading understanding about, and protecting the rights of, disabled students. In early 2017, panic sparked when there was an outage on the section of the Department of Education website that addressed IDEA. However, the Department assured visitors to the site that the only changes it planned to make were to remove outdated information and to improve the site’s function so that parents and educators could access information more easily. Currently, IDEA remains an effective and vital part of providing equal access to education to millions of students.