Education is regarded as a fundamental right in the United States. Up until the 1970’s, however, children with disabilities were being denied this right. Congress passed landmark legislation to redress this injustice, beginning with the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and culminating with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. These new federal laws strived to end educational discrimination against children with disabilities, by guaranteeing all children have access to a free and appropriate education in the best environment possible. These laws made clear what schools and other public entities obligations were for the education of the disabled, and also proposed specific measures to be taken for their protection, thereby ensuring that all citizens had access to an education and the self-sufficiency and education provides.
The Impact of Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) 2004, on the Education of Children with Disabilities
The notion that public education is essential for a well functioning republic has a long history in the United States. The chief goal of an education is to produce a measure of self-sufficiency in an individual (Hannon, 1997). An individual is expected to determine his or her own course and not to be dependant, but function independently, and an education is the means to achieve this goal. Up until the 1970’s, education for those with disabilities did not foster independence, in fact the result was the exact opposite. People with disabilities weren’t expected to be self-sufficient, instead often ended up dependent on public funds and programs for support. (Stroman, 2003) In order to change this prevailing notion about disability, Congress first had to recognize that the rights of a section of the population were being denied, and second, they had to enact laws to safeguard the rights of these citizens. With Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P. L. 93-112) and the first Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (P. L. 94-142), the federal government took the first steps in making sure that all with disabilities were guaranteed a “free appropriate public education” that was to be provided in the “least restrictive environment.” (Switzer, 2003) These new guiding principles were to ensure that children with disabilities were to obtain the education they deserved. These two federal laws changed how children with disabilities were educated by 1) clearly defining disabilities, 2) making education meet the needs of an individual, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution, 3) clearly defining the school’s responsibilities, and 4) adding procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the children.Education as a fundamental right for all is based on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. (Hurwitz, 2008) The amendment protects us from any state depriving us of life, liberty or property, without due course of law. Children with disabilities were being deprived of an appropriate education. In its landmark decision, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court affirmed that educational opportunities fell under the protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that state laws denying black children equal educational opportunities was unconstitutional. (Hannon, 1997) The language the court used made it clear that denying any group or classification of people educational opportunities was unconstitutional. (Stroman, 2003) Education had to be extended to all, on equal terms regardless of race or disability. Federal legislation was necessary to standardize all of the existing laws different states had regarding the education...