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 allchildren 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.
This blog was cross posted from HOMEROOM, the official ED.gov Blog, and originally appeared on Medium.
Last year I learned about Jade, a dynamic 8th grader who struggled to learn to read when she was in elementary school.
In recalling her challenges, Jade described trouble recognizing letters and difficulty linking them together to form sounds. She just couldn’t read. The worst feeling in the world, Jade said, was starting to believe the names her classmates called her.
For a long time Jade kept her struggle to herself, feeling alone, and like she had to find her own way to deal and cope with this challenge. Fortunately, Jade’s family and teachers stepped in to help her get special education services. These services provided her with individualized strategies to help her read—strategies that she still uses today as she advances through middle school and sets her sights on high school and beyond.
We know that Jade is not alone. Approximately 2.5 million students receiving special education services in schools have learning disabilities, making it the largest disability population in our country. And, while research demonstrates that learners with disabilities who struggle in reading or math can most certainly succeed at rigorous, grade-level coursework with high-quality instruction and appropriate services and accommodations, too many young people don’t get the support they need to succeed. Sadly, and unnecessarily, students with learning disabilities lag far behind their peers in a host of academic indicators.
Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Jade’s story shows us what is possible when educators and families work together to build on the strengths of a child while identifying and addressing their challenges.
By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.
That’s why I am proud to highlight October as the month of awareness for Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.
Today, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to state and local educational agencies. This guidance clarifies that students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—have unique educational needs. It further clarifies that there is nothing in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in a student’s evaluation, determination of eligibility for special education and related services, or in developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP).
It is our hope that this guidance will help families and educators work together on behalf of children. We acknowledge that there could be situations in which the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination. Additionally, there could be situations where an IEP team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).
Specifically, this guidance:
Clarifies that the list of conditions in the definition of “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, is not an exhaustive list of conditions which may qualify a child as a student with a learning disability;
Reminds States of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA;
Encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.
This guidance can be found by visiting the Department of Education’s webpage.
The Department is committed to ensuring students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—receive a high-quality education. The month of October is as an opportunity to raise awareness about these critical issues. But we all must remember that helping students, like Jade, to thrive happens not just today, but every day.
Guest Author: Jim Stovall, Co-Founder and President, Narrative Television Network
As we celebrate and contemplate the impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) over the last 40 years, we must consider not only where we are but where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we’re going. The technological breakthroughs and marvels that we experience here in the 21st Century have changed our world and changed the way we all live. Among the innovations that would most shock and bewilder our ancestors would be the proliferation of visual images that we experience. A few generations ago, a black-and-white snapshot was a prized and treasured family possession. Today, we routinely carry with us smart phones and other devices that put digital photography and videos at our fingertips.
At its best, technology is the wondrous tide that lifts all boats, but at its worst, it can create an ever-widening gulf between the mainstream population and those individuals dealing with disabilities. If a picture is, indeed, worth a thousand words, a video is certainly worth a million words. The following brief example will allow you to experience the opening of a movie just as a blind person does, but it won’t leave you in the dark as then you will see a second sample video that will provide the solution that is being experienced by millions of people around the world.
Nowhere is the need for this life-changing accessibility greater than in the classroom. Description is simply the process of making the visual world verbal. When done well, it is the key to unlocking the door to educational opportunities for countless blind and visually-impaired students across the country.
The U.S. Department of Education, through description grant projects, has linked the creators of the best educational videos available anywhere with production organizations that create description and made it possible for this dynamic partnership to impact visually-impaired students.
As the founder and president of a company dedicated for over a quarter of a century to creating accessible educational programming, I am obviously committed to description, but my true dedication stems from the fact that I’m a blind person myself. I’ve experienced the educational process as a fully-sighted person through my elementary years, as a visually-impaired/partially-sighted person during my middle and high school years, and as a totally-blind person through much of my college experience. It remains almost impossible for me to fully describe to sighted people the impact of description.
In a survey conducted in conjunction with the American Council of the Blind, it was revealed that fully 99% of the blind and visually impaired individuals supported description and wanted more of it. I realize it’s almost impossible to imagine 99% of any group agreeing on anything, but if you will consider what the response might be to a survey of fully-sighted people if they were asked whether they were in favor of having the availability of television, movies, and streamed video programming, you can begin to understand what description means to the visually-impaired population in the educational process and in the world beyond.
In a study conducted in cooperation with National Geographic Television involving visually-impaired students, their parents, and teachers, it was revealed that the comprehension for blind and visually-impaired students approximately doubled when the educational programming had description. In an educational landscape where dedicated professionals struggle to get a one or two percent improvement, these results are overwhelming.
The impact of description extends beyond accessibility for visually-impaired students and includes students with learning disabilities, those learning English as a second language, and the general school population. An elementary teacher, Gail Patterson, whose class participated in the National Geographic study, may have put it best when she said, “The students and I were very excited about viewing the documentaries with description. Truthfully, I think added description would be helpful to not only visually impaired students but to other students as well.” But as is often the case, if you want to know what’s best for students or most compelling to them, you need to simply ask the kids. Brian, a visually-impaired middle school student, said, “I think described movies are a miracle for kids who can’t see the television screen!”
Hanna, a visually-impaired high school student, said, “I am blind, so it is a real benefit to have description. I wish that audio description was as popular as captioning.” P. Killius, an accessibility advocate in New York, said, “My friend is writing for me. I am blind. I am employed teaching self-advocacy to the physically challenged. Never in my career have I been so pleased about anything as I am about Narrative Television Network. Your dialogue allows the unsighted to really understand every little nuance that until now could only be enjoyed by those with sight. A whole new world has been opened to us.”
As an author myself, I have felt the satisfaction of having six of the novels I have dictated produced as major motion pictures and enjoyed by millions of people around the world. This feeling of satisfaction pales in comparison to the experience of turning existing movies, television shows, educational programming, and other visual media into accessible described programming in which the narrated words we insert come to life in the theatre of the mind within blind and visually-impaired people.
Through grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, we are not only able to give blind and visually-impaired students access to visual material, but it gives them access to a real education and, therefore, the whole world.