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Monday, October 6, 2008

Access to Education

Here's what Tiffany, a student in the Disability and Diversity Certificate Program, had to say about Special Education:

Students with disabilities need access to education. Thirty-five years ago, the educational rights of students with disabilities were dramatically and firmly established in law and practice. Prior to that time, many students were refused enrollment or special education services. Only since a federal court case in 1972 and the passage of federal legislation in 1975, have all states been mandated to provide a free, appropriate public education to all students with disabilities. In 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were passed. Under the IDEA, states and local districts were given a mandate to provide specialized educational programs for students with special needs, and students and parents were given a mechanism for enforcement of their rights (Weber, 2007).

Special education is a large and expensive system currently serving one in ten students in public school. Many students are placed in special education because of the inability of regular education to accommodate their needs. Research has shown that regular education, if properly modified, can meet the needs of many more students with disabilities, but doing so is challenging (Hocutt, 1996). Of students found to be eligible for special services under the IDEA, only a small percentage (about 5%) are now served in locations entirely separated from the regular school building. Of the remaining students, about one-third spend most of their day in a regular classroom, one-third in the regular school building but in separate classroom and one-third spend roughly half the day in each setting (Hocutt, 1996).

When we talk about education for children with disabilities, the topic of inclusion often comes up. Inclusion remains a controversial concept in education because it relates to educational and social values, as well as to our sense of individual worth (Weber, 2007). Not everyone is excited about bringing students with disabilities into the mainstream classroom setting. Tornillo (1994), president of the Florida Education Association United, is concerned that inclusion, as it all too frequently is being implemented, leaves classroom teachers without the resources, training, and other supports necessary to teach students with disabilities in their classrooms. Consequently, these students are not getting appropriate, specialized attention and care, and the regular students’ education is disrupted constantly. For inclusion to work, educational practices must be child-centered. This means that teachers must discover where each of their students are academically, socially and culturally to determine how best to facilitate learning. Indeed, child-centered teachers view their role more as being facilitators of learning rather than simply transmitters of knowledge (Hocutt, 1996).

Lieberman (1992) points out that many advocates (primarily parents) for those with learning disabilities also have significant concerns about the wholesale move toward inclusion. Their concerns stem from the fact that they have had to fight long and hard for appropriate services and programs for their children. They recognize that students with learning disabilities do not progress academically without individualized attention to their educational needs. These services have evolved primarily through a specialized teacher working with these students individually or in small groups, usually in a resource room setting. Students with disabilities need an education that is appropriate to their needs. It is not enough to just include students with disabilities in a regular classroom if their disabilities prevent them from obtaining education. Appropriateness must be individually determined. Differences in disabilities, severity, and individual strengths means that the federal government and states cannot legislate specific services for students by category alone.


Hocutt, A.M. (1996). Effectiveness of special education: Is placement the critical factor? Special Education for Students with Disabilities, 6 (1), 78-102. Retrieved September 20, 2008 from

Lieberman, L. M. (1992). Preserving special education for those who need it. In W. Stainback, & S. Stainback (Eds.), Controversial issues confronting special education: Divergent perspectives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Tornillo, P. (1994). A lightweight fad bad for our schools? Orlando Sentinel.

Weber, M.C. (2007). Inclusive education in the united states and internationally: Challenges and response. The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 3(1&2), 19-33. Retrieved September 20, 2008 from

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