IDEA: What Parents of Children With Blindness or Low Vision Need to Know About the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The IDEA ensures special education for children up to age 21, says the US Department of Education. It began in the mid-1970s, guaranteeing school-age children with disabilities a free, appropriate public education in a suitable environment, known as IDEA Part B. Later, in the mid-1980s, Part C was added. It offers states federal grants to provide special education to children until they turn three. The law’s latest version, encompassing both parts, is termed IDEA 2004. This reflects its update and reauthorization in 2004.

The current version of the special education law, including Parts B and C, is referred to as IDEA 2004, shorthand for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which was reauthorized and revised in 2004.

IDEA Part C: Early Intervention

If your child is under three years of age, services are described in Part C of the law and are referred to as early intervention services. Early intervention services are voluntary for parents of eligible children; individual states determine eligibility for early intervention services. Services are provided in the “natural environment,” meaning the environment in which your child would be (home, daycare) if they did not have a disability.

The document that serves as a blueprint for your child’s early intervention services is the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). The IFSP will be developed based on evaluation results and discussion among team members. A cornerstone of the law is that the team comes together and develops the IFSP as a team of which you are an equal member.

IDEA 2004 protects your role as a parent to fully participate in the decision-making that goes into educational planning for your child. You know your child better than anyone else and can be a powerful resource, as well as an advocate, for her development and education.

IDEA Part B: School-Age Services

When a child reaches age three, they are eligible to receive services under Part B of IDEA 2004. Services are typically delivered in a school setting, though if a child is medically fragile, services may be in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility. The document that serves as a blueprint for a child’s school-age services is the Individualized Education Program (IEP).

IDEA 2004 Part B has six basic principles parents should be aware of. Each is briefly described below.

Free and Appropriate Public Education

Your child is entitled to a free education that is appropriate to her special education needs as a student who is blind or low vision. This education is to be provided in a public school setting.

Least Restrictive Environment

IDEA 2004 requires that children with disabilities be educated with children who are not disabled to the greatest extent possible. Today, most children who are blind or low vision go to their neighborhood schools. There are various educational options for students who are blind or have low vision. These include a regular classroom, a special classroom in a regular school, or a special school. The best placement for your child is decided when the team creates the IEP. This decision is based on where your child has the best chance to meet their IEP goals.

Comprehensive Evaluation

Evaluation is the process used to determine whether a child has a disability and needs special education and related services. Although your child’s eye condition may seem obvious, an evaluation to formally document your child’s disability is required to start the special education process.

Full and Individual Evaluation

Your child is entitled to a comprehensive evaluation of strengths and needs. This evaluation occurs at least once every three years at no cost to you. This is referred to as a “full and individual evaluation” (sometimes abbreviated as FIE). Your FIE should include the following types of assessments:

Individualized Education Program

If your child is between three and 22, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be developed. The IEP will be developed based on evaluation results and discussion among team members. A cornerstone of the law is that the team come together and develop the IEP as a team of which you are an equal member.

Parent Participation and Rights

Parents’ and Students’ Input into Educational Decisions

IDEA 2004 ensures your right as a parent to be fully involved in your child’s educational planning. This is done through the IEP process. As you know your child best, you are a key resource and advocate for their development and education. IDEA 2004 also encourages self-advocacy in students. It recognizes them as team members in their education, when suitable. Children with blindness or low vision should join the IEP meetings in late elementary school, as appropriate.

Procedural Safeguards:

“Procedural safeguards” are measures your local school district and state educational agency implement. They ensure your ability to enforce your child’s right to a free and appropriate public education. These measures aim to keep you informed about decisions impacting your child’s education. They also ensure fair and equal treatment for you, your child, the school, and professionals. Your school district is required to provide you written information in your native language about these procedural safeguards

Besides its six core principles, IDEA requires planning and services for teenagers transitioning from high school. This includes preparing for a job, college, or other paths, and ensuring access to ongoing services

Dive Deeper into IDEA

We’ve only provided a basic overview of IDEA 2004 here on FamilyConnect. For in-depth information about the provisions of IDEA 2004 and the full wording of the law and its regulations, see IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Wrightslaw is another helpful website. While legal terminology can be intimidating at times, getting acquainted with the key provisions of the law helps you understand what to request to ensure your child receives all the entitled services