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To commemorate tomorrow’s 15-year anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), we are looking back at six key laws that have specifically helped improve the lives of children with special health care needs.

1. August 14, 1935 – Social Security Act: This Act established federal old-age benefits and grants to states to be used to assist individuals who are blind and children with disabilities. The Act also extended existing vocational rehabilitation programs established by earlier legislation.

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Photo: Library of Congress

2. April 11, 1965 – Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): The first federal grant program to fund the education of children with disabilities in state-operated or state-supported schools and institutions. Part of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the Act provided federal funds to help low-income students and led to education programs such as Title I, Head Start, and bilingual education.

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Photo: LBJ Library Photo by Frank Wolfe

3. July 1, 1969 – Lanterman Act: This California law established the right of people with developmental disabilities in California to services and supports to allow them to live a more independent life. Regional Centers are developed to provide needed services.

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Photo: Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center

4. November 30, 1975 – Education for All Handicapped Children Act: A free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment  is guaranteed. Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are mandated with special education and related services designed to meet the needs of each child (aged 3-21) with disabilities, and “wherever possible” to be educated with children who do not have disabilities.

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Photo: History of Blindness in Iowa Archives

5. July 26, 1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act: If the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first civil rights act for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act was the second. Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the law was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in history. It extended all civil rights protections to people with disabilities, including protection from discrimination in employment, transportation, public accommodations, telecommunications, and activities of state and local governments.

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Photo: George Bush Library

6. October 30, 1990 – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Replaced the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and expanded discretionary programs. IDEA also included transition and assistive technology services as special education services and expanded the list of those eligible to include children with autism and traumatic brain injuries.

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Photo: HDK/DWI Aryo T. Handono

Related Grants

Findings from a survey of California-based caregivers that asked them about their experiences receiving peer support for caring for children and youth with special health care needs.

This policy brief by the National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health looks at what happens when low-income youth and young adults with chronic conditions and disabilities age out of the Title V Program for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs and provides policy recommendations.