An IDEA Whose Time Has Come
IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP are meant to reflect the individualized needs of each student. The IEP must be developed by a team of experts and must be reviewed at least annually. This profound change empowered parents to demand quality education for their children with disabilities.
Interpretation and full implementation of the Rehabilitation Act and subsequent legislation have nevertheless been a challenge to disability advocates. The Commission on Civil Rights has defined discrimination, as it affects people with disabilities, somewhat differently than in other cases. Clearly, to treat those with disabilities as if they were not disabled is not analogous to being color blind to racial differences. To treat people with a disability exactly the "same" as peers without a disability is usually to exclude them from participation in a specific program or activity. The concept of appropriate "accommodation" has therefore become incorporated into policy implementation of the Rehabilitation Act mandates.
Recipients of federal funds therefore may not 
 Accessed July 12, 2001, at http://www.dot.gov/ost/docr/regulations/library/REHABACT.HTM.
Deny the opportunity to participate in or benefit from an aid, benefit, or service.
Afford an aid, benefit, or service that is not equal to that afforded others.
Provide a less effective aid, benefit, or service.
Provide a different or separate aid, benefit, or service, unless such action is necessary to provide one that is as effective as those provided to others.
Otherwise limit the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity enjoyed by others.
Expanding Rights to Public Education
A school must therefore afford equal opportunity for learning to students with disabilities, but the learning experience for those students does not have to be identical to the experience of students without disabilities. IDEA mandates that such equal opportunity be provided in the most integrated setting possible. Advances in educational assistive technology (AT) have greatly increased our potential ability to deliver on the promise of inclusion. Barriers still remain, however, including ignorance about how to identify and deploy appropriate technologies to meet individual needs.
For example, Ann Moore (not her real name) is a bright 11-year-old girl who has a motor skills impairment that prevents her from writing or using a conventional computer keyboard. It is difficult for her to handle books, so the Internet is a tremendous resource for her. Voice-input software is available, but much of it does not respond to a child's voice. Her parents are committed to keeping her at grade level in her standard classroom, but her teachers do not have the expertise to identify or use appropriate AT to meet her specific needs. In her school district, over 12,000 students are eligible for educational AT, but there are only three AT specialists to assess, diagnose, and test the effectiveness of the solutions. You don't have to do much math to realize the problem here. Although we have made progress in identifying the need to include people with disabilities, there is still much to be done to actually meet that need.