Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring that all students with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. It emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare these students for employment and independent living. This law provides a framework for school systems across the nation to use in delivering an individualized education program (including early intervention, special education and related services) to almost seven million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. IDEA and its predecessors have allowed more children to be educated in their neighborhood schools, rather than in separate schools and institutions, and contributed to improvements in the rate of high school graduation, postsecondary school enrollment and post-school employment for youth with disabilities.

Current Status

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was last authorized on December 3, 2004, as Public Law 108-446. Most of the provisions in the bill will last through 2011.


The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was authorized in 1975. This Act was designed to support states and localities in protecting the rights of and meeting the individual needs of infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities and their families in order to improve results for these populations. The goals were to assure all students a free appropriate education and to increase learning and achievement. The act has been amended several times between its first inception and its latest revision in 2004, and now exists as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

CTE-related Provisions

Many students with disabilities enroll in CTE in order to develop job skills so that they can be employed and live independently, and benefit from CTE in the same ways as all students. Several provisions of IDEA relate directly to how students are educated in the classroom and are relevant to CTE teachers. These include:

  • Students are to be assessed in a non-discriminatory and multidisciplinary way to determine their education needs. Several pieces of information are to be used to determine appropriate educational placements, and these materials are not to discriminate on the basis of culture, race or language of origin.
  • Students must be educated in the least restrictive environment that is consistent with their needs, and should be placed in situations with their non-disabled peers whenever possible. Accommodations and supplementary aids and services, such as assistive technologies, should be available to students in the general education classroom whenever possible to allow full participation in the school curriculum.
  • An individualized education plan (IEP) must be developed for each student who has been identified in need of special education or related services. An IEP is a specialized education plan that describes a student?s needs and how educational services will be delivered to meet those needs. The IEP must be developed by a team of people including the student’s family, at least one special education teacher, at least one general education teacher, a representative of the local education agency, counselors and the student if appropriate.
  • Families have the legal right to become involved in the education program and to participate in decisions regarding appropriate strategies, accommodations and placements.
  • Students with disabilities must have plans in place to determine positive behavior interventions that decrease or prevent behaviors that hamper the learning of that student or the learning of others. When disciplining students with disabilities, whether or not the behavior was a result of the student’s disability must be considered.
  • IDEA supports the preparation of students for success after graduation through transition programs, and requires that specific transition planning occur no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16.




Resources for Hard-of-Hearing and Deaf in the Workplace
A comprehensive guide that offers communication apps, tools and technology for inclusion, productivity and education.

Toolkit on Teaching and Assessing Students With Disabilities
A comprehensive toolkit from the U.S. Department of Education, April 2006.

National Center for Secondary Education and Transition
The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition coordinates national resources, offers technical assistance and disseminates information related to secondary education and transition for youth with disabilities in order to create opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures.

U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
The Office of Special Education Programs is dedicated to improving results for infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities ages birth through 21 by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts. This national Web site includes information on policy, regulations and guidance for implementing IDEA, research and national publications.

IDEA Partnerships
The IDEA Partnerships, sponsored by the Department of Education, bring together groups representing service providers, administrators, policymakers and families to improve resources and information dissemination related to implementing IDEA. The site has information on the law and professional development opportunities and resources.

National Dissemination Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
NICHCY is the national information center that provides information on disabilities and disability-related issues. They have information on specific disabilities, education strategies, IEPs and transition.

Council for Exceptional Children
The Council for Exceptional Children is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving educational outcomes for individuals with exceptionalities, students with disabilities and/or the gifted. This membership organization provides excellent materials related to the latest developments in special education and information on professional development and accreditation.

ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
The Education Resources Information Center gathers and disseminates professional literature, information and resources on education and development of individuals of all ages who have disabilities. ERIC Digests related to research and best practices can be downloaded from the site.

National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum
The center provides resources on how new curricula, teaching practices and policies can be woven together to create practical approaches for improved access to the general curriculum by students with disabilities.

National Association of State Directors of Special Education
NASDSE provides support to all states and territories in the delivery of quality education to children and youth with disabilities through training, technical assistance, research, policy development and the development and modeling of powerful collaborative relationships with other organizations and all constituencies. Use this site for contact information on your state leaders and access to national projects, research and policy information.

PACER Center
The mission of PACER Center is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents. This site has a special section on student?s transition to work and provides unique information from the parent?s perspective.

National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth
NCWD/Youth is a source for information about employment and youth with disabilities. Sponsored by the Department of Labor, the partnership program has great resources and a special ?Ask the Expert? section.

TransCen Inc.
TransCen, a name adopted to illustrate its role as a transition center, is dedicated to the improvement of educational and employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. The Web site has information about projects around the country that are being implemented to help improve educational and employment outcomes for students with disabilities.