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The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (P.L. 93-112) was (and is) critical because it addressed discrimination against persons with disabilities. Section 504 provides qualified individuals with disabilities with basic civil rights protection in programs and activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The law states that "no otherwise qualified disabled individual in the United States... shall, solely by reason of a disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Since 1965, education was one of the many programs receiving federal financial assistance.

The U.S. Department of Education regulations to implement Section 504 prohibit discrimination against children and youth with disabilities in educational institutions receiving federal funds. Agencies that persist in acts of discrimination face the loss of federal funds. The prohibition applies to preschool, elementary, secondary, postsecondary, vocational, and other programs and activities that receive or benefit from federal financial assistance.

Women protesting
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.

As a result of the U. S. Supreme Court cases, the states were under considerable pressure to provide such services and they lobbied Congress to assist them.  Congress began an investigation into the education of children with disabilities. While more than eight million children needed special education, it was found that only 3.9 million were receiving an appropriate education. Some 1.75 million children with disabilities were receiving no education at all, while 2.5 million were receiving an inappropriate education.

The Education Amendments of 1974 (P.L. 93-380) contained a variety of changes to existing federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Title VI of the ESEA was renamed the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1974. States were required to establish a timetable toward achieving full educational opportunity for all children with disabilities.

The Act provided procedural safeguards for use in the identification, evaluation, and placement of children with disabilities; mandated that such children be integrated into general  classes when possible; and required assurances that testing and evaluation materials be selected and administered on a nondiscriminatory basis. The Act passed.

As Alan Gartner notes, "A disorderly mix of state laws and local practices, along with growing pressure from parent advocates, influenced officials of the newly established Bureau of Education for the Handicapped* to support the 1974 amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act."

Physical therapy of a child
Photo courtesy William Bronston, M.D.