Educating Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities

Historical Overview and Future Projections

Authored by: Fred Spooner , Fredda Brown

Handbook of Special Education

Print publication date:  April  2011
Online publication date:  May  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415800716
eBook ISBN: 9780203837306
Adobe ISBN: 9781136869624


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The presence of people with disabilities has been documented since the earliest recordings of history. Throughout this history, people with disabilities have been subjected to a remarkable range of what would now be considered inhumane “treatments”—including trephining (i.e., a circular hole chipped in the top of the skull to allow the evil spirits escape) and infanticide (see chapter 1 for a more complete description of this history). For people with severe disabilities, these types of treatments are now just “ancient history”—we have had a long journey, and have come a long way; but we still have a long way to go. Brown v. Board of Education (1954), other landmark cases (e.g., PARC v. Pennsylvania, 1972; Wyatt v. Stickney, 1972; and Mills v. Board of Education, 1973), and the passage of PL-94-142 in 1975, set the stage for our more recent history of services and supports for individuals with severe disabilities. For individuals with severe disabilities, 1974 was another landmark.

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