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Major Educational Changes in 1990 By Al Bruno

Americans with Disabilities Act (1990)

With resonating effect across America, President George H. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990, by affirming:

“I now lift my pen to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down (1990).”

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The purpose of the ADA (1990) was to prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities based on their disability. Specifically, the ADA (1990) primarily focuses on prohibiting discrimination in employment, public housing, and transportation issues.

Relevantly, Mitchell L. Yell, David Rogers, and Elisabeth Lodge Rogers (1998), education authors, cite that Congress reported that by 1990, 43 million Americans were identified with physical or mental disabilities. With all the great advances, exclusionary and discriminatory treatment still blocked children and adults with disabilities from fully integrating themselves into society; Yell, Rogers, and Rogers (1998) explain:

“Congressional findings also indicated that individuals with disabilities who had experienced discrimination based on disability had little or no recourse to redress such discrimination.”

Given all the documented exclusionary and discriminatory treatment, America was ready for an all-purpose, all-inclusive ADA (1990) to unite and legally embed the special education/disabilities movement into ‘America’s consciousness’ for all-time. 

Yell, Rogers, and Rogers (1998) expound on the significance of ADA (1990) in modern-day America: “The primary goal of the law, therefore, is that persons with disabilities will enjoy equal opportunity to fully participate in the life of the community and have an equal opportunity to live independently.”

Many legal experts see the ADA (1990) as an extension of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973). The ADA (1990) was wider in scope than Section 504 (1973) and more broadly inclusive in design and intent. Section 504 (1973) specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in governmental/educational agencies receiving federal funds; inclusively, the ADA (1990) builds off Section 504 (1973) by connecting and extending these services against discrimination in the private sector as well.

The ADA (1990) had broad applicability and is the final linchpin in the anti-discrimination of persons with disabilities campaign in America. The mavericks that kept exclusionary and discriminatory practices alive for years were hopefully silenced forever.

As inclusive as its idealistic design, the ADA (1990), however, provided little more than did Section 504 (1973) for the education of children with disabilities. 

The ADA (1990) has confounded educators still about how to correctly apply and impart it in staff training sessions. Yell, Rogers, and Rogers (1998) explain the effect of ADA (1990) on educating children with disabilities:

“When students leave school and enter the workforce, they will need to engage in self-advocacy.  A duty of educators is the responsibility to inform students with disabilities (and their parents) of their rights contained in the ADA.”

ADA (1990) basically reauthorized Section 504 (1973) and added employment protection in education; however, improved curricular programming for children with disabilities was not addressed. 

ADA (1990) impact was felt and realized on grand scale by America’s moral commitment to finally engrave a namesake law for all persons with disabilities, impacting and changing the face of America. 

The ADA (1990) represents the top tier of the anti-discrimination movement. In and of itself, the ADA (1990) has done nothing monumental in education, unlike its legal precedents that have significantly advanced the special education movement: What the ADA (1990) has done in American society is reaffirm the important protections of the Section 504 (1973) and the CR Act (1964), making all the education laws for children with disabilities ironclad in strength. 

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1990) 

The amendments to the EHA (1975) in 1990 were renamed and reauthorized as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 1990). The EHA (1975), known as Public Law 94-142, remains the landmark law for education of children with disabilities, but by 1990, changes in the law were imminent, and the IDEA (1990) was signed into law by President George H. Bush on October 30, 1990.

There were three, major changes included in IDEA (1990): 

The first change, that is the changing of the term, handicapped student to child/student with disabilities, was merely a change in language; it was a legal attempt to achieve political correctness for the betterment of children with disabilities by focusing on the child/student first before disability.

The second change, addressing students with autism and traumatic brain injury, were identified as a distinct class entitled to the law’s benefits, responding to the increasing number of these students. The adoption of IDEA (1990) now programmatically served students with autism and brain injury.

This was a sharp break with the past when these students were excluded from participation: Addressing the much-needed gap in services was recognized and applauded in the service communities.

The third change, that is a transitional plan, was required to specifically outline postsecondary outcomes in every student’s IEP age 16 or older; it was a tremendous victory for an ever-increasing number of aging-out students with disabilities that were graduating and exiting public school programs. 

Alarmingly, students with disabilities were often left with no educational and vocational choices after high school: This meant that students with disabilities remained isolated, creating family strife about the dismal uncertainties presented to them. 

It was neglectful and hurtful to transitioning students with disabilities. Their plight was saved with IDEA (1990), and the problem of transitional planning was remedied.

The need for transitional planning established a growing number of successful vocational programs for students with disabilities. Vocational training for students with disabilities works well because students 

are trained in schools and then placed in community work settings, often with the assistance of job 

coaches, job developers, and teachers. 

Vocational educational and transitional services for students with disabilities are provided for in the individual education plan (IEP), outlining goals and objectives for successful transitioning to postsecondary environments in work, school, or training. 

In NYS, students are often referred to the state office of vocational educational services for individuals with disabilities for services as well as community agencies and providers. 

IDEA (1990) ensured by law that students must have an individual transition plan (ITP) to accompany the IEP. The implementation of functional and vocational assessments should be made a staple in transitional planning for students with disabilities and research findings support the effectiveness of these assessments. 

Students with disabilities meet success in vocational placements in trades like mechanical repair, building trades, culinary arts, and plumbing. In order to maximize success in vocational programs, students are now placed in a variety of training placements, providing hands-on experiences at different jobs. 

Support from teacher personnel is critical to success, identifying job skills and creating relevant, task analyses. IDEA (1990), by its design, answered the parental concerns for vocational and postsecondary training for students with disabilities that are transitioning and/or graduating from high school programs.

IDEA (1990) accommodated parents in novel ways. Relevantly, Edward W. Martin, Reed Martin, and Donna L. Terman (1996), education authors, explain: “The IDEA provides many procedural protections for the parents of children with disabilities…Congress reasoned, after hearing testimony, that parents could not afford in many instances to challenge the school systems’ greater resources and so provided the legal fee remedied.”

Most of the parental concerns focused on the placement of a child with disabilities. Conflicts arose concerning whether the child should remain in a regular education classroom or not. Martin, Martin, and Reed (1996) explain the modification of the regular education classroom:

“The IDEA requires the school to consider modifications in the regular classroom before moving the child to a more restrictive placement…The IDEA requires state educational agencies to develop plans for such training, and does not allow the district to plead lack of qualified staff as a justification for removing a child from the regular classroom.”

In response, most school districts took a proactive approach by training and sensitizing regular education personnel to the specific, educational needs of students with disabilities. These training or staff development sessions were collaborative efforts with special education staff to create a bonding, team effort between the regular and special education departments.

IDEA (1990) was more than a reauthorization of the EHA (1975) as some believed at the time of its adoption. Rather, IDEA (1990) modernized the EHA (1975) into a more responsive and more accessible

process for parents of children with disabilities. As time moved ahead in the 1990s, parents and advocacy groups still clamored for more opportunities to be heard to redress their concerns. 

Their concerns would be heard by more explicit means with the enactment of the IDEA Amendments (1997).

President Barack Obama signs Executive Order increasing federal employment of individuals with disabilities, during an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the South Lawn of the White House. July 26, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

References:
American Disabilities Act, Congressional Record (1990).
George H. Bush Presidential Documents (1990).
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Congressional Record (1990).
Martin, Edward W., Martin, Reed, and Terman, Donna L. (1996). The legislative and litigation history of special education. The Future of Children: Special Education for Student with Disabilities, v6, n1.
Mitchel L Yell, Mitchell L., David Rodgers, Elisabeth Lodge Rogers (1998).  “The Legal History of Special Education: What a Long and Strange Trip It’s Been, Remedial and Special Education”, v19, n4.

 


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