Currently there is a nominee being interviewed for her role as United States Secretary of Education that will have a huge impact on our society, not just on k-12 students.
There are many issues being discussed with the nominee but the one that is of particular concern revolves around continued federal support for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Why is IDEA critical not just to school age children with disabilities but to adults with disabilities and to civil society?
When I was in elementary school there was no law that required school districts to educate students with disabilities. But my school in Newton, Mass. had a classroom in the basement where students with disabilities went. I don’t know what went on in that class but I saw the kids when I was assigned to get the milk cartons for snack. I didn’t understand why those kids were there but it didn’t seem right that they should be in a windowless room. I was always disturbed about that and 50 years later I still remember that room.
Then in the mid 1970s IDEA was enacted which was the beginning of inclusion of people with disabilities in mainstream society. When a student with a disability enters preschool with her typical peers it is not just for the benefit of the student with a disability. It is the beginning of teaching the “typical” children about the value of people who are different from themselves, it teaches acceptance, compassion, responsibility, and fairness. (And, as an added bonus, for those whose religion includes the old testament, it reinforces the message that all humans are made in the image of God).
As a mother of a now-20 year old girl with autism who benefited directly from IDEA, I also saw how many (not all) students and teachers benefited from inclusion – whether it was participating in the school chorus, or attending the assembly, or partnering on a science project.
Once children were taken out of the basement and institutions, they then grew up with their typical peers. Now we can’t put people we grew up with back in the basement and ignore them; they are slowly becoming more integrated in all aspects of our society, although unfortunately employment is still a huge challenge.
At Yes She Can’s store, Girl AGain, we often have our young customers interact with our trainees. Most of these customers are 6 to 10 year old girls who have peers with disabilities in their classrooms, so they don’t have an uncomfortable reaction when engaging with my daughter – who loves to cross-sell and up-sell our customers. (She’s a natural marketer when it comes to American Girl).
IDEA has a lifelong impact on our society, not just on the 10% of students that are classified with a disability that impacts their educational needs.