The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, is a federal law that was passed in 1975 ensuring every child with special needs in the U.S. receives equal access to free public education.
More specifically, the primary objectives of IDEA are:
- To provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children with disabilities. IDEA requires schools to identify and evaluate students who may have a disability, free of charge for their families. If a student is identified as having a disability, schools must provide them special education and related services to meet their needs.
- To empower parents when it comes to their child’s education. Under IDEA, parents have specific rights and protections, giving them a say in the decisions the school makes about their child.
IDEA applies to students from birth through high school graduation or age 21 (whichever comes first) and includes 13 disability categories:
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities
- Orthopedic impairment
- Other health impairment (including ADHD)
- Specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and others
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment including blindness
Among the services and support required, IDEA mandates schools provide access to assistive technology, specialized instruction, services such as speech and occupational therapy and accommodations such as extended time on tests.