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Celebrating 40 years of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

November 25, 2015

The following is a blog post written by Hannah Shapiro, Senior Coordinator, Housing & Community Living at Autism Speaks.

This month, I took part in celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Last week was filled with events to mark the progress made by millions of students being served by the IDEA.

The celebrations kicked off with an anniversary reception hosted by the Department of Education. Speakers included Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers (WA), a dedicated advocate for students with disabilities and a mother of a child receiving IDEA services. McMorris Rogers explained the importance of holding high expectations for students with disabilities to achieve their fullest potential.

The next morning, the White House held an event on the history and impact of the IDEA and to hear from a panel of self-advocates. In the spirit of the law, the event celebrated the “Individual” aspect of the IDEA. Students and teachers shared personal stories about the impact that individualized education can have for students that might require accommodations or modifications in mastering their curriculum.

That afternoon, Nick, a self-advocate volunteer with Autism Speaks, and I attended the IDEA symposium at the Department of Education. This event hosted a diverse panel of experts that presented links to research and practice, highlighting the many areas of progress and areas for improvement, such as quality early childhood programs and transition programs for students 14 and older.

It was truly inspirational to watch the community of advocates celebrate the transformation of public education for students with disabilities while remaining committed to the hard work that lies ahead. Although there has been incredible progress in education through the IDEA, there is still more work to be done to ensure all students have access to a free and appropriate public education that is tailored to fit their individual needs.

In 2013, 6.4 million students were being served under the IDEA- 8% being students with Autism. Autism Speaks asked to hear personal stories about how the IDEA impacted you or your child’s education. Many shared their stories of success made possible through an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), trained and supportive teachers, integrated classrooms, accommodations, and other services mandated by the IDEA.

Unfortunately, not all personal stories shared were as positive. Other stories showed families having trouble accessing IDEA services. The stories highlight the need for continued advocacy in education as well as family engagement. As parent and student advocates, it is critical to understand your rights under the IDEA when requesting education services.

In celebrating the IDEA, President Obama reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to an inclusive society, where all individuals have equal opportunity to succeed, “Today, as we recognize the progress our country has made in extending students with disabilities the change to fulfill their potential, we know that more work remains and that too much of our country’s potential is still unfulfilled.”

The IDEA has paved the way for all students to learn and progress together.  About 85 to 90 percent of students with disabilities—including those with autism— can meet the graduation standards targeted for all other students, as long as they receive specially designed instruction and appropriate access, supports, and accommodations. As a community, we must continue to hold high expectations for students with disabilities and advocate for inclusive education. With the proper supports and individualized education, students with disabilities can reach their full potential.

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