Brief History of Public Law 94-142 Education of All Handicapped Children Act

Before Public Law 94-142-Before 1975

Many individuals with disabilities were housed in state residential institutions. Children living with their families were sent to special schools, rarely received a high school diploma and rarely attended college.

Public Law 94-142


Congress passed Public Law 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act), which supported the education of children with physical disabilities in the least restrictive environment. The purpose of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act was:

  • “To assure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education which included special education and related services designed to meet their ‘unique needs’”
  • "To assure that the rights of children with disabilities and their parents are protected"
  • "To assist States and localities to provide for the education of all children with disabilities"
  • "To assess and assure the effectiveness of efforts to educate all children with disabilities"

Ten years after US law mandated the education of children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment, schools still resisted.


Amendments mandated that states provide programs and services from birth


Amendment changed the name to IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)


Amendments supported initiatives for services from high school to adult living


Despite the laws, which have been passed, and the changes in educational policy, children with disabilities continue to have low graduation rates from high school and have low college attendance. As adults, they experience higher rates of unemployment. Much remains to be done.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

National Center for Learning Disabilities – Where We Stand, High School Graduation

Students with Disabilities

Disability Scoop—Graduation Rates Fall Short For Students With Disabilities

Public School Enrollment

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—Children and Youth With Disabilities

Degree Status

Data First, The Center for Public Education –How Many of Our Students Ultimately Receive a High School Credential

The TEAM Project at the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—Improving Access, Transition, and Success: Meeting the Challenges Facing College Students with Disabilities


Bureau of Labor Statistics—Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary

   Still Photos by Susie Fitzhugh and Susan Hadary