In the earlier part of the 20th century, students with physical and mental challenges were placed in special classrooms and in some cases special schools apart from general education students. With the advent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975, students with special needs can in most cases can be served in the same educational classrooms as general education students--with appropriate accommodations and modifications.

IDEA and Education for Students with Disabilities

According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities(NICHCY), IDEA was first enacted to give students with disabilities a chance at an education in the nation's public schools. IDEA sets up guidelines for education of students with mental and physical disabilities. First, that all children must be given a "free, appropriate education" in a public school. Second, the child with a disability's right to privacy is protected. Third, that state, federal and local governments must work with local agencies and schools to ensure that a disabled child receives an education. Fourth, that children who are disabled be assessed to ensure that educational programs put in place for them are working.

Education for Students with Physical Disabilities

According to NICHCY, there are eight categories of physical disability recognized by the federal government: deaf-blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, orthopedic impairment, other health impairment, speech or language impairment, traumatic brain injury, and visual impairment. For many of these children, successful educational programs are possible with the right accommodations and modifications. These may include: elevators, bigger doorways, large print textbooks, sign language interpreters, and speech therapists. Some children may also need longer time to finish assignments and tests, fewer problems, and computer aided assignments. In addition, students with physical disabilities may benefit from computer assisted technology--such as computer programs that aid students with reading, writing, and Internet use.

Education for Students with Mental Disabilities

NICHCY states that there are 6 categories of mental disabilities under IDEA: autism, developmental delay, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability, other health impairment, and specific learning disability. Most children with mental disabilities can also be served in a general education classroom, with the proper accommodations and modifications. Examples of accommodations and modifications for children with mental disabilities include: individual administration of tests, extended time for tests, behavior contracts, goal sheets, counseling or other mental health therapy, positive behavior plans, quiet rooms for a child to calm herself, and frequent breaks during tests or assignments.

Accommodations and Modifications

There is a difference between what an accommodation is, and what a modification is. A modification changes what kind of work is being expected from the student, according to NICHCY. Examples of modifications within a classroom would be: leveled readers, different math problems based on ability, reduced homework or classwork and grading a student pass/fail instead of a numerical or letter grade. An accommodation helps a student overcome or work around his disability. Examples of accommodations within a classroom would be: extended time for testing, preferential seating in a classroom, simplified directions, and oral responses on a test rather than written. It is possible that a student may require both modifications and accommodations in order to be successful in the classroom.