Background

Students with disabilities in grades K-12 identified as having disabilities under IDEA represent 11.5% of all students enrolled in public education. Disability categories children are often placed in and national percentages for the 2000-01 school year were as follows:

Source: Twenty-fourth Annual Report to Congress on Implementation of the IDEA, US Department of Education. Washington DC, 2003
Learning disabilities 50.0%
Mobility or orthopedic impairments 1.3%
Health impairments 5.1%
Behavioral or emotional disturbance 8.2%
Hearing impairments 1.2%
Blindness and visual impairments .4%
Speech or language impairments 18.9%
Other impairments 14.9%

Additionally, almost half of the population of student with disabilities in K-12 classrooms spent 80% of more of their day in regular education classrooms. The graduation rate for students with disabilities is 52.6% nationally.

Representation in Postsecondary Education

Although postsecondary enrollment for students with disabilities is increasing, individuals with disabilities continue to be underrepresented in postsecondary education when compared to their non-disabled peers. The number of postsecondary undergraduate students identified as having disabilities in the United States represents approximately 6% of the student body. The types of disabilities reported by these students were:

Source: An Institutional Perspective on Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Postsecondary Education Quick Information System, August 1999
Learning disabilities 45.7%
Mobility or orthopedic impairments 13.9%
Health impairments 11.6%
Mental illness or emotional disturbance 7.8%
Hearing impairments 5.6%
Blindness and visual impairments 4.4%
Speech or language impairments 0.9%
Other impairments 9.1%

Participation in STEM Programs

A bachelor's degree or higher is a prerequisite for many challenging careers including those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Few students with disabilities pursue academic studies in STEM, and the attrition rate of those who do is high.

However, the success stories of individuals with disabilities in STEM fields demonstrate that opportunities do exist for people with disabilities who successfully overcome the barriers imposed by inaccessible facilities, curriculum materials, computers, scientific equipment, and electronic resources; lack of encouragement; inadequate academic preparation; lack of access to role models; inadequate academic supports to bridge precollege, undergraduate education, graduate programs, and employment; and the negative attitudes and lack of knowledge about accommodations on the part of precollege and postsecondary educators.