Explain how thinking has changed regarding the understanding of students with disabilities. How has legislation and litigation influenced the education of students with disabilities?
At one point in time, Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, was of the opinion that any child with any form of disability should not be allowed to live under the law. This just indicates the challenges that children with disabilities have had to undergo through history. Though presently the rights of children with disabilities are enshrined in the law, it is important to note that children with disabilities have suffered through history from such acts as infanticide, slavery, physical abuse and abandonment (Hardman et al, 2011). In the 20th century, notable developments in this area were the failed Nazi plan to exterminate people with disabilities from society and the development of access of education to students with disabilities through special schools which had previously been denied. Almost at the same time that this was happening, the society was becoming more negative towards children with disabilities as was shown by the enforcement of 17th century laws that prohibited people with some forms of disabilities from marrying, and later amended to include sterilization. Children with disabilities would be kept away from their families in institutions. This was not meant to exterminate these individuals, but rather was a form of segregation. This situation changed during the depressions in 1930s and 1940s. In 1963, President Kennedy formed the Committee on Mental Retardation (which is now the President’s Committee for Intellectual Disabilities) and contributed significantly to later legislations that were passed for the benefit of people with disabilities (Hardman et al, 2011).
Before the 1960s, disability rights movements were almost nonexistent, and it was with the advent of the civil rights and women rights movements that disability rights were also brought to the forefront. It was also around this time that disability rights shifted from the individual disabilities to a comprehensive rights movement which advocated for the rights of all groups of people suffering from disabilities and fought for a common course (Hardman et al, 2011).
The most initial change in focus to the rights of students with disabilities can be traced back to 1948 when the existence of physical and program barriers was dealt by a proof which provided for the minimum requirements for barrier free physical access to people with disabilities in buildings, walkways and in other locations. This provision included schools, and thus the rights of students to barrier free access to schooling facilities was established. This was further strengthened by the ANSI barrier free standards which required for the development of buildings accessible to the physically handicapped. The standard provides for the construction of buildings which provide independence to the handicapped and thus provides uninhibited and nonhazardous access to buildings. This further provided for better rights of access to educational buildings by students with disabilities (Barnartt et al, 2001).
Further rights to students with disabilities was as enshrined in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which provided that there would be no exclusion, denial or discrimination as a result of a handicap under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (Hardman et al, 2011). This meant that students who were under an education program financed by the federal government could not be discriminated against and their rights as students were protected under federal law.
The Individuals with disabilities Act of 1983 created several bodies tasked with ensuring proper and non discriminatory education to students with special needs. Under this act, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services was established. This presented a clear institutional ability by the federal government through the department of education to create and enforce policies regarding the education of students with disability. The act also gives detailed and broad policy guidelines on the funding and dealing with the education of students with special needs, from the lowest level to the highest level possible.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 also made significant provisions in improving the rights of students with disabilities, the most significant one being the provision of lifts for people on wheelchairs in public buses, which in effect included school buses. The Act made sweeping provisions for the rights of people with disabilities in general, and most of these rights extended to students with disabilities and mandated that programs in all levels of government be accessible to people with disabilities, and also provided that public accommodations which in this case included schools, have reasonable modifications to ensure access for disable members of the public. This by extension required that schools make the proper arrangements and modifications to ensure access to disabled students.
Of great importance to the advancement of the rights of students with disabilities was the Mills vs. Board of Education of District of Columbia which among other provisions declared that students with disabilities must be given public education and that financial limitations were irrelevant in the provision of their education. The ruling in this case was a precedent that educational services for children should be based on the needs of the children and not on the financial abilities of schools to provide for them. This by implication means that it is upon schools to make provisions to students with special needs to have all the necessary resources for their education.
The rights of students with disabilities have been developing through time as illustrated, and it can be argued that currently, the provisions of the law, both federal and state seek to ensure that those rights are protected in the best manner possible. Students with disabilities have every right to have resources necessary for their education and this is provided in law and by precedents set in the above case.
There are many challenges facing educators, which include increasingly higher standards and teacher accountability for student performance. What do you predict will happen to students with disabilities in the current educational climate and special education in the future?
Non discrimination is one of the principles that guide the formulation of education policy for students with disabilities; the argument being that students with disabilities should not be treated in a manner that offers them lesser rights than students who suffer disabilities. Federal and state law also gives a provision that students with disabilities should have all the necessary resources availed to them to ensure that they receive education that meets their needs. However, these provisions are in a background where educators are expected to record higher standards of performance and higher teacher accountability, with the argument behind this being that since more resources are utilized in meeting the educational needs of students with disabilities, accountability for these resources should be in form of better performance.
Under this current educational climate for students with special needs, the short outcome from the higher accountability for performance expected of teachers will be the substantial improvement of the performance of students with disabilities. Performance contracting, which has been hyped in the recent past may be used and educators required to sign against expected performance goals for specific period of time. However, the use of performance contracts is on the understanding that necessary resources are provided for the provision of the best standards of education. Teachers are more likely to ensure that the best performance possible from students with disabilities is realized.
In the long run however, the performance of students with disabilities will peak off, and the trends in their performance will mirror the performance of students without disabilities and there will be little or no difference in the performance of the two groups. I would expect that at this point, more pressure on educators for students with special needs will yield little or no improvement in terms of performance since the resources provided for the education of students with special needs will be ideally optimal. At this point, it is expected that the facilities provided for the education of students with special needs will be optimal, and all the relevant provisions in law will have been provided for; in effect, the ideal position as regards the education of students with special needs.
What was your initial response during your first personal encounter with an individual with a disability? Based on your current knowledge and experiences, how would your response be different now?
My first personal encounter with a person with disability was in a church. The gentleman was on a wheelchair, and appeared burly though his legs looked emaciated. In such a gathering, it was rude to stare, but at my small age I could not but do what the adults seemed to avoid and stare. This encounter left a great impression on me, and it is only later in life that I have reflected back and realized how the odds were stacked against that man at that point. The church made no effort whatsoever to provide easy access to the man on the wheel chair, and since he was but a visitor that day, it was upon his presumed friends that he depended on to move him up the few steps at the entrance of the church, which was quite a task since four individuals would hold the man and the chair together and lift up in a singular effort. The same was repeated at the end of the service. I could not help but wonder how embarrassing if the individual had a call of nature and was in need to visit the washrooms; it would require that he enlist the help of his friends.
At that point, I could only be sympathetic to the plight of the man, and I felt that his situation was pitiful; I felt sorry for his condition. He however seemed unbothered by the pitiful stares from others, perhaps having become used to such.
Based on my current knowledge and experiences, my response today would be totally different. With the knowledge that many of the persons with special needs are well aware of their rights, I would expect that the gentleman would not take kindly any pitiful looks by anyone, since such would contribute absolutely nothing towards his well being. My reaction would rather be on whether the church, being a public place, had instituted measures to ensure access by persons with disabilities by construction of ramps to the building itself and to other important locations such as parking slots and wash rooms. I would take a measure to bring to the attention of the authorities in the church about the provisions of the law on such matters, and see to it that those provisions are acted upon in the most expeditious manner possible.
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