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Thirty-five Years of Progress in Educating Children With Disabilities Through IDEA
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Initial Federal Response

In the 1950s and 1960s, the federal government, with the strong support and advocacy of family associations, such as The ARC, began to develop and validate practices for children with disabilities and their families. These practices, in turn, laid the foundation for implementing effective programs and services for early intervention and special education in states and localities across the country.

There are numerous illustrations of key initial federal legislation that supported improved programs and services. Notable examples include the Training of Professional Personnel Act of 1959 (P.L. 86-158), which helped train program administrators and teachers of children with mental retardation; Captioned Films Acts of 1958 (P.L. 85-905), which supported the production and distribution of accessible films; and Teachers of the Deaf Act of 1961 (P.L. 87-276), which trained instructional personnel for children who were deaf or hard of hearing. In addition, in 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA; P.L. 89-10) and the State Schools Act (P.L. 89-313) provided states with direct grant assistance to help educate children with disabilities. These and other critical federal laws began to open doors of opportunity for children with disabilities and their families. (See sidebar: Key Milestones of Early Federal Support for Educating Children with Disabilities.)

Key Milestones of Early Federal Support for Educating Children With Disabilities

By 1968, the federal government had supported:

  • Training for more than 30,000 special education teachers and related specialists.
  • Captioned films viewed by more than 3 million persons who were deaf.
  • Education for children with disabilities in pre-schools and in elementary, secondary, and state-operated schools across the country.

Source: 22nd Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of IDEA

Landmark court decisions further advanced increased educational opportunities for children with disabilities. For example, the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth (1971) and Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (1972) established the responsibility of states and localities to educate children with disabilities. These court decisions, which affirmed the right of every child with a disability to be educated, are grounded in the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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Last Modified: 11/22/2010