In 1975 the Congress of the United States passed the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, a landmark statute in special education that has since undergone numerous amendments. A 1990 amendment renamed the law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
IDEA requires public schools to offer a free and appropriate education to all disabled children. The law also requires that all children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 receive support services, such as counseling or physical therapy, regardless of the type or severity of their disability. According to the provisions of IDEA, schools must identify all children with disabilities. To do this school officials provide each child thought or known to have a disability with a comprehensive evaluation conducted by teachers, the parents, and appropriate specialists, such as a speech clinician or orthopedist.
IDEA also requires schools to give parents the opportunity to assist in the development and revision of their child's education plan. The plan specifies goals for the student's education, methods to achieve those goals, and services to be provided. Each student's education plan is reviewed annually. To the maximum extent appropriate, a child with a disability must be educated with children who do not have disabilities. In addition, IDEA requires that older children with disabilities receive transition services to assist in the change from school to adult activities, such as employment, continuing education, and finding a place to live. IDEA provides federal financial support for schools to develop special education programs.
Other federal laws prohibit discrimination based on disability. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 bars discrimination against individuals with disabilities in public schools and any other federally supported programs. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ensures access for individuals with disabilities in all aspects of life, including education, the workplace, transportation, and telecommunications.