What is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act?

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law that supports special education and related service programming for children and youth with disabilities. It was originally known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. In 1990, amendments to the law were passed, effectively changing the name to IDEA. In 1997 and again in 2004, additional amendments were passed to ensure equal access to education.

This federal legislation is designed to ensure that children with disabilities be granted a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). IDEA does the following:

  • Ensures that all children with an identified disability receive special education and related services to address their individual needs.
  • Ensures that children with disabilities be prepared for employment and independent living.
  • Ensures that the rights of children with disabilities and their families are protected under the law.
  • Assesses and ensures the efforts of institutions providing services to persons with disabilities.
  • Provides assistance to states, localities, federal agencies, and educational service agencies in providing for the education of children with disabilities.

For more information about IDEA, consult Summaries of IDEA, published by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY).

Date Updated: 

1/24/2013