Over the past century, we as a society have had many views about people with disabilities. We have held many misconceptions, generalizations and stereotyped the disabled community. Although it is illogical, we have often grouped and assumed that all disabled people are at the same impairment level. It was not until later in the 1980’s and 1990’s that people with disabilities were recognized with different need levels and different types of disabilities that we could adapt services for.
Early in the 1900’s disabled people and people with differences were exploited by the public’s curiosity about the unusual. People with disabilities were sensationalized in the carnival culture as human exhibits and their differences were capitalized on as income. People with disabilities were not considered competent enough to be a part of society. They were excluded from "normal" society and kept with their own kind. Any normal accomplishments made by people with disabilities were flaunted as extraordinary.
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Beginning in the decade of the 40’s, concepts of people with disabilities started to change. They were seen as pathological, patients that could be treated and cured. They were still secluded and feared by the general population. The "freak" sideshows were considered repulsive during this period, but the disabled were still locked away to protect the "normal" people from danger.
Universities during the 60’s and 70’s became places of protest against structural exclusion and the negative attitudes toward the disabled population. There were attempts to develop an awareness of and objections to the presence of society’s distortion and misconceptions about the disabled population. The bigotry and prejudice attitudes of school personnel and students still kept many with disabilities from admission to schools. Those that were admitted were looked on as dependent, unattractive and not eligible for special services or adaptations. In 1977 the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 94-142) mandated handicapped children between three and twenty-one years of age receive a free public education that is appropriate for their needs. PL 94-142 has been amended five times and is now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
During the 80’s there was still social isolation and misconceptions surrounding persons with disabilities. There was still a characterized stigma in the perception of traits of people with disabilities as aloof-introverted, lazy-submissive, and unassuming-ingenuous. The 1990 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) increased environmental and academic accessibility in both public and private schools and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disabilities, but negative attitudes towards students with disabilities still remained a challenge. Higher education administrators became more aware and invited more communication with the disabled community to counteract negative stereotyping and misconceptions. The 1997 Amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) set higher expectations for students with disabilities and held the schools more accountable for assessing and reporting student progress. All handicapped children and their parents were guaranteed, under this law, due process with regard to identification, evaluation and placement for disorders of communication as well as other handicapping conditions.
The Education Reform Movement set higher goals and standards for public education. Educational goal and standard developers suggested that the goals and standards should be appropriate for all students. The distinction of "all students" raised importance to the issues of students with disabilities and special needs. Amendments to the Education of the Handicapped Act, PL 99-457 broadened the mandate for providing services to preschool children between three and five years of age.
Schools were now responsible for providing early intervention programs. Students who did not meet the criteria for special education services were entitled to reasonable accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
We have come a long way over the course of the century, attitudes have been modified and collaboration between educators and students has helped achieve more productive academic and physical accommodations. Disability and diversity awareness is now a responsibility of the community, as a whole. Anti-discriminatory procedures are now a part of job descriptions and monitored and evaluated on a regular basis.
Adaptations for access and inclusion are being facilitated in the classrooms. We have taken steps towards successful inclusion of students with disabilities within the educational community.
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