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The IDEA 40th Anniversary
40 Years of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

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IDEA 40th Anniversary logo




40 years ago, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) became law.
Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on why that's worth celebrating! #IDEA40

Posted by U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

IDEA—40 Years Later

On Nov. 29, 1975, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In adopting this landmark civil rights measure, Congress opened public school doors for millions of children with disabilities and laid the foundation of the country's commitment to ensuring that children with disabilities have opportunities to develop their talents, share their gifts, and contribute to their communities.

In the last 40 years, we have advanced our expectations for all students, including students with disabilities. Classrooms have become more inclusive and the future of children with disabilities brighter. Significant progress has been made toward protecting the rights of, meeting the individual needs of, and improving educational results for infants, toddlers, children and youths with disabilities.

Today, according to the 2013 Child Count, over 62 percent of students with disabilities are in general education classrooms 80 percent or more of their school day, and early intervention services are being provided to over 340,000 infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families. Since 1975, we have gone from excluding nearly 1.8 million youths with disabilities from public schools to providing over 6.9 million students with disabilities special education and related services designed to meet their individual needs.

In 2015, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the passage of Public Law 94-142. While tremendous progress has been made over the years, we must continue the hard work and address the challenges that still exist. Although we are able to help many individual students to achieve their goals, we must strive to ensure that all children have the support they need and to find ways to meet each student's needs within the context of each school.


On Nov. 29, 1975, the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), guaranteed access to a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment to every child with a disability. Subsequent amendments, as reflected in the IDEA, have led to an increased emphasis on access to the general education curriculum, the provision of services for young children from birth to five, transition planning and accountability for the achievement of students with disabilities.


As part of our celebration of 40 years of the IDEA, we wanted to hear from individuals with disabilities—especially children and youth with disabilities—parents, teachers, researchers and all other IDEA stakeholders about the personal impact this law has had on them.

  • How has IDEA made a difference to you?
  • What does inclusion, equity, and opportunity now look like for you?

Here are some of their stories:


White House Event
IDEA Symposium


The White House
Washington, DC

View the WH Event



U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC



Below are some select federal resources associated with the IDEA 40th Anniversary:


  • U.S. Department of Education

    • School Climate and Discipline
      #RethinkDiscipline Teachers and students deserve school environments that are safe, supportive, and conducive to teaching and learning. Creating a supportive school climate—and decreasing suspensions and expulsions—requires close attention to the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of all students.

  • Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS)
    OSERS understands the many challenges still facing individuals with disabilities and their families. Therefore, OSERS is committed to improving results and outcomes for people with disabilities of all ages. OSERS supports programs that serve millions of children, youth and adults with disabilities.

    • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)
      OSEP is dedicated to improving results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts. OSEP administers IDEA.

      • Early Learning
        The goal for early learning is to improve the health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for all children from birth through 3rd grade, so that all children, particularly those with high needs, are on track for graduating from high school college- and career-ready.

      • Results Driven Accountability (RDA)
        OSEP has revised its accountability system to shift the balance from a system focused primarily on compliance to one that puts more emphasis on results.


  • New Dear Colleague Letter on Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
  • The cornerstone of IDEA is the entitlement of each eligible child with a disability to a free appropriate public education (FAPE) that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child's unique needs. The primary vehicle for providing FAPE is through an appropriately developed individualized education program (IEP) that is based on the individual needs of the child.This policy letter clarifies that IEPs for children with disabilities must be aligned with state academic content standards for the grade in which a child is enrolled.
     PDF | 361KB


  • New IDEAs that Work: Understanding College & Career Ready Standards
  • The IDEAs That Work: Preparing Children and Youth with Disabilities for Success Web site connects teachers and families with resources to assist them in improving instruction and supporting academic, social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students with disabilities and struggling learners as they become college and career ready.

  • New Supporting and Responding to Behavior: Evidence-Based Classroom Strategies for Teachers
  • This document summarizes evidence-based, positive, proactive, and responsive classroom behavior intervention and support strategies for teachers. These strategies should be used classroom-wide, intensified to support small group instruction, or amplified further for individual students.

  • New Age of Majority Parent Guide and Tip Sheets
  • Taking on the rights of an adult can be challenging for all youth, but it is especially challenging for youth with disabilities. To assist parents in preparing their young person with disabilities to make these decisions, the Center for Parent Information and Resources is releasing a parent guide and a series of tip sheets for parents of children with disabilities.

  • New Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports: Implementation Blueprint and Self-Assessment
  • The Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports Implementation Blueprint is a guide for leadership teams in the assessment, development, and execution of action plans. The outcome is the development of local capacity for sustainable, culturally and contextually relevant, and high fidelity implementation of multi-tiered practices and systems of support.

Last Modified: 02/07/2019