IDEA: Education for Children with Disabilities


The I.D.E.A - Today on Congressional Moment

Since 1917, education has been compulsory for American children, but even by the 1970s, the educational needs and rights of children with disabilities were addressed only sparsely, at the local level. Most schools deemed them "too difficult to teach," and many children spent unfulfilled, dismal lives at home or in impersonal state institutions.

The Disability Rights Movement drew national attention in the 1960s, when Ed Roberts, paralyzed from the neck down, gained admission to the University of California at Berkeley. He was housed in the campus hospital, and protested. Fellow students joined his protest, and he was eventually given an independent living facility on campus.

The issue came before Federal courts in 1972, who determined that the right to a basic education was tied directly to the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment. Proponents in Congress seized that connection, and began working on a law requiring all states to provide disabled children with an education, and financial assistance to create and maintain this service within local communities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or I.D.E.A., was enacted by Congress in 1975 to guarantee free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities, in the least restrictive environment possible.

The I.D.E.A. continues to help millions of children with disabilities become productive members of society.

This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all of our lives.  To find out more about how Congress works or to get involved in your government, visit the Center On Congress Web site at