Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in 1997 and ensures that all children with disabilities are guaranteed an appropriate public education to meet their needs. The IDEA also guarantees that such education is free and prepares them for further education, employment and living independently. The IDEA was adopted as a response to the lack of appropriate education structures meeting the needs of disabled children and the denial of access to public education. Before the IDEA, disabled children were oftentimes placed in segregated classrooms, without any specific measure to respond to their special needs.

The IDEA establishes a structure, the Office of Special Education Programs, that administers and carries out the terms of the Act. The IDEA states that all disabled children are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) along with an evaluation of their disability in order to provide them with the best support possible. In that sense, the IDEA establishes the creation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a program laying out a series of specific actions to respond to the child’s needs. Finally, the IDEA sets up a broad set of guidelines regarding national activities to be taken to improve the education of children with disabilities.

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]