Education for people with disabilities received attention from the government in the second part of the XX century. The policy regarding this matter is centered on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This paper looks at the features of each of the three laws and defines whether they are effective. The impact of the laws is researched from the perspective of communities of interest: people with disabilities and school counselors who work directly with children with disabilities. The influence of IDEA is shown based on the latest data on children with disabilities in the period from 2009 to 2020. The impact of Title II of ADA is demonstrated based on research conducted at the University of the Midwest. The influence of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is shown based on interviews with school counselors across the nation. The research shows a positive effect on providing education for more people with disabilities. However, the people who work in the sphere do not get enough training on the procedures of the laws making implementation of it time-consuming. In order to provide children with disabilities with proper education, it is important to attract and train more specialists in this sphere so the process itself would go better. Government policies on providing education for people with disabilities should be comprehensive, achievable, and rewarding. People should see those with disabilities as equal and integral parts of society. Educating children with disabilities jointly with other children in regular schools is the first step in spreading diversity, teaching acceptance, and providing them with a better inclusive future.
Talking about people with disabilities may be hard since it brings out many difficult questions. One of those questions is providing every disabled person with a high-quality education at premises suitable for their needs. Since each case is individual, providing every person with disabilities with education has its challenges. Some people may have physical disabilities, and some may have mental disabilities. Some people have had a disability since birth and may have learned how to live with it; some people may have an accident and be devastated by their new conditions. Some people may have supporting family or a group of friends, and some may not have anyone to rely on emotionally. Each person and each situation are different and require an individual approach.
A lot of arrangements need to be made to provide disabled people with education. Schools have to have funding, specialists for each case, and equipment for the needs of their students. A crucial part is making sure that the teachers and other students treat disabled children as equals and that there is no discrimination. The most important part of providing education for disabled people is in the hands of the government. Only with the right policy from the government would the schools have the facilities to provide everyone with proper education, and people would understand the importance of teaching people with disabilities.
The Government Policy on Educating People with Disabilities
There have to be government policies that cover all the aspects of the question to provide education for people with disabilities. Up to the XX century, local and state governments were in charge of decisions regarding schools since the United States Federal Government was not involved in education matters (Rodriguez & Murawski, 2020). The federal government’s involvement started with the increase of discrimination based on race, social status, and disabilities. In 1969, media attention was attracted to a legislative bill proposing education for children with disabilities (Rodriguez & Murawski, 2020). This event stimulated the federal government to support providing education for disabled children.
In the USA, there are three laws covering education for people with disabilities. All three of them were passed in the second half of the XX century and now apply to different cases regarding education. These laws have different definitions for disability and, in some situations, overlap in their coverage. Where two of these laws can apply to a case, the third one would contradict, which makes the rights of disabled children questionable.
The first one of the laws is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which was first passed in 1973. Section 504 protects the rights of all disabled people in the programs that the federal government funds. According to the Section, disability is described as a physical or mental impairment that “limits one or more functional capacities” (Rehabilitation Act, 1973, p. 17). People with disabilities have the right to be in a place that provides them equal access to school activities and should get an education with non-disabled children.
The second law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) which was passed in 1975 and reauthorized in 2004. IDEA applies to children from birth to the age of 21 and includes a strict list of disabilities. A child with a disability is described as someone who needs “special education and related services” (Individuals with Disabilities, 2004, p. 2653). Those services are caused by mental retardation, emotional disturbance, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities (Individuals with Disabilities, 2004). IDEA requires an individualized education program (IEP) that identifies the services that the child receives.
The last of the three laws is Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), first passed in 1990 and then changed in 2010. ADA protects the civil rights of all disabled people, and Title II forbids discrimination by local and state governments. Disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that limits major activities and “is not limited to… contagious diseases” such as HIV, tuberculosis, or addiction (Department of Justice, 2010, p. 30). Schools should provide conditions for disabled children to bring to the premises a service animal but are not required to provide the children with special equipment or any individual devices.
Strategic execution of the policies providing education for people with disabilities is bound to the teachers’ proficiency. For instance, the implementation of IDEA “impacted teacher licensure and certification testing” since they are required to be highly qualified in the matters of interaction with students with disabilities (Rogers & Johnson, 2018, p. 2). In this case, the teachers can work with the parents to create individualized education programs that will help every student achieve inclusive education in the long term.
On the other hand, the strategic execution of Section 504 is not decided only by the teachers or the parents. Instead, Section 504 requires a team of stakeholders knowledgeable about the students with disabilities to create a plan that would remove barriers limiting the full participation of the students in the curriculum (Wattan, 2019). In this connection, the execution of the law may be more efficient since the stakeholders should be more competent in long-term matters than school employees.
The impact of an event may be better described when shown on a scale of numbers. For example, the impact of IDEA can be seen by selecting the number of educated children with disabilities for a certain period. Between 2009 and 2020, the number of students with disabilities in public schools who received special services under IDEA increased up to 14 percent, which is about 7 million children (National Center, 2021). In 2019, 95% of the children were enrolled in regular schools, 3% went to schools for students with disabilities, and the rest went to private schools or other correctional facilities (National Center, 2021). The statistic shows that IDEA allows children to go to regular schools without being excluded.
Another way to see the impact of the government policy on education for people with disabilities is by looking at the opinions of communities of interest. People’s views on disability can be seen by looking at the impact caused by Title II of ADA. Research conducted at the University of the Midwest interviewed 30 “members of ADA generation” who had disabilities such as blindness, deafness, and varying levels of paralysis (Forber-Pratt, 2018, p. 242). The research says that disability culture now “includes a deeper set of norms, values, and beliefs,” which it would not have without the legislation in place (Forber-Pratt, 2018, p. 252). The research results show that ADA allows people with disabilities to feel more accepted in modern society.
One more way of seeing the impact of the laws is by looking at people who work directly with children with disabilities at school. For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act impacts the school counselors, who are most frequently responsible for coordinating Section 504 (17%) (Goodman-Scott & Boulden, 2020). While there are almost 900000 children under the protection of Section 504 nationally, the counselors say the process of implementing it is so time-consuming it’s “taking time away from students” (Goodman-Scott & Boulden, 2020, p. 4). The counselors state that there is not enough training on Section 504, and some of its parts are not “clear-cut” (p. 6), so they cannot facilitate the process (Goodman-Scott & Boulden, 2020). While Section 504 may be beneficial to children with disabilities, the process of it is still obscure and makes the work of school employees harder.
The policies executed by the government show the perception of the importance of providing education for people with disabilities. However, the government policies regarding this matter are relatively new since their implementation nationally started only in the second half of the previous century. While the three main laws focus on forbidding discrimination against people with disabilities, they are slightly different. For example, Title II of ADA is the only one considering contagious diseases and drug or alcohol addictions as disabilities. On the other hand, IDEA is the only one that requires an individualized education program with specified services for disabled children. However, out of three laws, IDEA is the one that is strictly directed at education for people with disabilities, and the other two cover discrimination against people with disabilities in general.
The effect induced by the laws may be evaluated when looking at the statistics and research results. First, the number of students with disabilities enrolled in regular schools has risen, and consequently, the number of graduates among them is expected to increase as well. Second, the implementation of government policies resulted in a better acceptance of children with disabilities by their peers and society. As a result, people have more opportunities to interact with children with disabilities and learn not to feel uncomfortable with them in any way. Moreover, society can see how unique people with disabilities are and how much diversity they can bring to the world if they are only given a chance.
While the effects of the policies are more positive, the effectiveness of the processes is questionable. In some cases, the three laws interact with each other well, and in other cases, they can apply differently to different situations, which raises disputes. For example, while IDEA requires special training for the teachers to design education programs for children with disabilities, Section 504 does not provide enough information training for those who work with the children directly. If the laws’ procedures are not well defined, there are mistakes to be expected in the execution, which regarding people with disabilities, are likely to lead to litigation. There needs to be a procedure that benefits the process of education for children with disabilities and facilitates the work on it. There should be more training for everyone involved in the matter and programs that would attract more people to help with providing education for people with disabilities.
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Goodman-Scott, E., & Boulden, R. (2020). School counselors’ experiences with the Section 504 process: “I want to be a strong team member…[not] a case manager”. Professional School Counseling, 23(1), 1–9.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, Publ. L. No. 108–446, 118 Stat. (2004). Web.
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Wattan, D. K., Benson, K., & Reyes, K. (2019). K-12 teacher candidates’ understanding of ADHD student protections under Section 504. National Social Science Journal, 53(1), 64-72.