Disability, human rights and
education: the United States
Alan Gartner and Dorothy Kerzner Lipsky
In the United States, provision of education to students with disabilities encompasses issues of: educational services to children and youth; federal-state relationships; the rights of parents of children with disabilities; pedagogy; ways of conceptualizing disability; and civil and human rights. It is our belief that the order of listing represents the priorities that have been given to these issues over the past several decades. In keeping with the unique perspective of this book, this chapter will give particular attention to the last two factors, the ways of conceptualizing disability and civil and human rights. It will do so, of necessity, in the context of paying attention to the other factors as well. Analysis of the newly reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (PL 105–17) will provide a vehicle for addressing these issues.
While free public education for all is often thought of as a hallmark of American society, in fact across the course of United States history female children, children of the poor, children of the 'wrong' religion, children of immigrant parents, and children of colour were excluded from the public schools of one or another state.1 While over the course of time the exclusion of each of these groups was ended, for children with disabilities it was only in the third quarter of the twentieth century that their exclusion came to an end. Illustratively, Gilhool (1997) cites the following provisions of the Pennsylvania School Code.
Temporary or permanent exclusion from the public schools of children
who are found to be uneducable and untrainable in the public schools …