Friday is Independence Day. The Fourth of July is a big holiday for our country, and these days we really need a big holiday. Independence Day is also a time to reflect on the concept of independence.
For people with disabilities, independence is an important goal. Congress has stated that encouraging independent living for people with disabilities is the policy of the United States government. IDEA, Section 601(c). Indeed, one of the purposes of special education is to prepare children with disabilities for independent living. IDEA, Section 601(d)(1)(A).
Before passage of the EHA, the predecessor of the IDEA, in 1975, education of children with disabilities, who were then called "handicapped," was iffy at best. According to the legislative history of the EHA, which is quoted in the seminal Rowley decision by the Supreme Court, millions of children with disabilities were then either totally excluded from school or were warehoused until they were old enough to drop out.Bd. of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 191, 103 LRP 31848 (1982). At the time, it was estimated that of the eight million children who required special education, only about 3.9 million were receiving an appropriate education.Bd. of Education v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 191, 103 LRP 31848 (1982).
These numbers are shocking. 1975 was not long ago. Yet we have made real progress since then. Special education may have its detractors, but it is now widely accepted. Very few children with disabilities are now excluded from school. Some still do not receive an appropriate education, but there are now remedies available when that happens. We have come a long way!
I realize that we are not finished. I do not advocate the display of a banner reading "mission accomplished." But as we look forward on this Independence Day to how we can do a better job of educating children with disabilities, let us also look back for a moment and congratulate ourselves on the excellent progress we have made in what in public policy terms is a very short time.