By EMILY RUBINO
Throughout the United States’ history, various efforts have been made to assist people with physical, mental, intellectual, and other disabilities and aid them in the workforce, in schools, and in society.
Although more acceptance towards the disabled population has been seen in recent years, the work of many prominent leaders, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of the Social Security Act and Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s founding of the Special Olympics, has led to an advancement in other laws to protect those with a disability.
According to the US Department of Education, Section 504, an amendment of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, prohibits discrimination based upon disability “under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”
In 1990, the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act, was passed which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places, as noted in the article, “What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?”
Some argue that the most significant law for disabled children, however, is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA, passed in 1975. As mentioned in “IDEA,” this act provides “services to children with disabilities throughout the nation” and has paved the way for the future freedoms and educational possibilities many disabled children have today.
These laws, in addition to other health services and amendments, continue to ensure equal treatment and equal opportunity for the handicapped public. However, in recent months, it seems the fundamental rights for people with disabilities seems to be dwindling, especially disabled children and their school rights.
Tom Price, the nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and many others of President Trump’s cabinet picks refuse to support the Affordable Care Act, which secures insurance and other forms of protection for disabled persons.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, wrote a speech in 2000 regarding education discipline and IDEA. He stated that the act helps children, “if they have a hearing loss, or a sight loss, or if they have difficulty moving around, in a wheelchair, or whatever” and “the school system must make accommodations for them,” Tara Haelle, contributor for Forbes quotes. Haelle also notes that on the floor of the Senate, Sessions then claimed he asked teachers about the act and “was told in every school that this is a major problem for them. In fact, it may be the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today.”
The indifference to disabled children is not only seen in Sessions’s and Price’s views, but also by the controversial pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. According to Kate Zernike of the NY Times, during her hearing for her position, she responded that enforcing the federal IDEA “is a matter best left to the states.” When questioned by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia and Senator Maggie Hassan, Democrat of New Hampshire, DeVos confessed she “may have been confused” on whether the act is a federal law, Zernike reports.
According to Andrew Lee, 1 out of 8 children receiving special education services and protection from IDEA, almost 6.5 million students across the country; considering this, many feel that the services provided to these children will be weakened and/or revoked by Trump’s chosen executive branch members.
IDEA’s role in giving disabled children more educational opportunities has shown its significance and importance over the course of its 41-year existence.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the article, “Children and Youth with Disabilities, in 2010 – 2011, “about 95 percent of school-age children and youth ages 6 – 21 who were served under IDEA…were enrolled in regular schools.” The remaining 5 percent of disabled students were either “enrolled in separate schools (public or private)” or “were placed by their parents in regular private schools,” NCES adds, as well as, the fact that less than 1 percent were in “correctional facilities, separate residential facilities, homebound or in hospitals.”
Years earlier, according to “Children and Youth with Disabilities,” in 1995-1996, only 46% of disabled children attended general classes. The article also notes, in the 2010-2011 school year, 86 percent of students with speech or language impairments, “65% of students with specific learning disabilities and 64% of students with visual impairments” all served under IDEA, spent most of their school day in general classes.
Children and adults within the disabled population should not be fearful regarding their education and health services. Basic civil and educational rights should extend to all people, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or disability, and the progress made over the past 40 years needs to supercede the views of America’s new department heads.
Haelle, Tara. “Would Special Education Rights Be Safe With Jeff Sessions As U.S. Attorney General?” Forbes. 29 Nov. 2016. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
“IDEA.” US Department of Education. US Department of Education (ED), n.d. Web. 27 Jan.
Lee, Andrew. “How IDEA Protects You and Your Child.” Understood.org. 2014-2017 Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
“Children and Youth with Disabilities.” National Center for Education Statistics, Web. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/pdf/Indicator_CGG/COE_CGG_2013_01.pdf. Accessed 27 Jan. 2017.
“The Rehabilitation Act.” US Department of Education. n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
“What Is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?” ADA National Network., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.
Zernike, Kate. “Nominee Betsy DeVos’s Knowledge of Education Basics Is Open to Criticism.” NY Times. 18 Jan. 2017. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.