If ever a law has made a difference in the lives of millions of people, it’s the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (what we fondly call IDEA). The law forced public schools to educate all kids, whether they had learning disabilities or autism, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. All kids are entitled to a level playing field and the opportunity to learn, the law mandated.
And so 35 years later, things aren’t perfect, but how far we’ve come! Can you ever imagine stories like this one from Arizona, or this one from Georgia, about people with intellectual disabilities going to college? Kids with disabilities like Down syndrome have been getting a much broader and more extensive education with the advent of IDEA, and many are not satisfied to stop after graduating from high school.
It’s been a long road to get here, and there’s still a long way to go (college programs like these are rare), but it’s such an encouraging trend and a huge lesson that proves if you raise the bar for people with disabilities, they will inevitably meet that challenge.
Ah, but two steps forward, one step back.
In Oregon over the past few weeks, a young woman with Down syndrome was booted from her college ceramics class. Eliza Schaaf had been included with her classmates throughout high school and wanted to continue onto college, so her mother enrolled her as a non-admitted student in an art class at Southern Oregon University. All seemed to be going well until the family received a note from the school saying it was going to withdraw the young woman.
The dean wrote in part, “The non-admitted policy was not designed or intended to provide an avenue for participation to individuals who are not otherwise qualified for admission to SOU."
I guess if there is any silver lining to this ridiculous decision it’s that it has raised the ire not only of the student’s classmates but also of people across the country. People now understand, in a way that would have been hard to fathom 35 years ago, that students with disabilities have a place in all aspects of our society — school, work, and community. And now we can add college to that list.