Not many countries make a distinction between secondary and post-secondary education but the differences are very important in the USA, not least because they determine the application and eligibility process. A high school education (secondary in this context) is subject to the rules and regulations of the Federal Government as enacted by congress under the ADA Act of 1990. This process started way back in 1973 with the IDEA Act. The rationale was to ensure that people who had a recognized disability where not excluded from the mainstream education facilities. In particular there was an expectation that this type of service would be free at the point of delivery. Another major concern was the need to ensure that the education that was being provided was appropriate for the needs of the students. This could be assessed in terms of cultural sensitivity, interest, value and “enabling” the student in all ways possible.
The Beginnings of Equal Access and Mainstreaming
One of the complaints about education services for people with disabilities is that they tended to separate the service users and therefore emphasizing the differences that they had. The fact that there were special enabling provisions did not mean that the individuals affected had to feel stigmatized by difference. In all probability the lessons had been learnt following the experience of implementing affirmative action programs for children from minority communities who were subsequently subjected to hurtful questions about their ability. Therefore secondary education was comprehensively overhauled in order to remove any barriers and discriminatory practices whilst simultaneously mainstreaming their operation as far as practically possible.
Eligibility Criteria and Testing
Perhaps one of the most intimidating aspects of the programs was the fact that the people that had disabilities were on onus to explain and evidence their eligibility. Although this practice has subsequently been criticized by campaigners and educators as being a form of stigma; those that are concerned about the viability of the projects argue that it is the only way of ensuring that the available limited resources are utilized in a responsible manner. As it stands; all youth, children and infants of 21 years and below with a defined disability under ADA are able to access special education services free of charge. The school district is supposed to ensure that an objective and comprehensive assessment is carried out before developing an education plan for the secondary education program. Typically the district will then design a special instruction model and provide the right accommodation. Those that are on the program or would like to join the program are encouraged to engage in self-advocacy so that the services are bespoke to their needs. Often the districts will adopt a one-size-fits-all approach in order to maintain budgetary discipline.
Post-Secondary Education at College and University Institutions
Although the federal government is still involved in post-secondary education rules and regulations; the actual enabling legislation is different. For example in this case reference is made to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under Section 504, nobody that is eligible under this program is to be denied special services according to their needs. The act also addresses issues of direct and indirect discrimination in policy making/implementation. At this level, the expectation for self-advocacy is higher because the individuals affected are past their minority for almost all states. The downside is that disability is actually quite diverse and therefore people who have specific needs due to learning disabilities may be presumed competent to engage in self-advocacy when the reality is that they are not. In particular the requirement for students to obtain their own documentation and fill it can be onerous for certain categories of people with disabilities. That is why there was a move to incorporate the services of a competent professional who was officially recognized as being qualified to assess a particular disability.
Arranging for and Receiving Services
This responsibility falls on the students in most cases unless other just cause is shown. However there is always a team of disabilities staff who are able to give information and guidance. In this case the focus is on accommodations rather than special education. By and large the programs have worked well although there is still suspicion about the stigmatizing eligibility assessment criteria. Nevertheless both secondary and post-secondary education are important tools in ensuring that all Americans get a good education.