New Education Opportunities
Recent Integration into Public Schools
Handicapped children have been called the country's most oppressed minority. Whether blind, deaf, crippled or retarded, they are the victims of both sympathy and neglect. Although analogies have been made between their situation and that of blacks in the past, it is argued that racial minorities were never as stigmatized or misunderstood as the disabled. Handicapped children “are distributed randomly so that most have able-bodied parents,” explained psychologist John Gliedman. “They are parachuted into an able-bodied world. So there is no community of disabled people in which such a child can grow up, no cultural support system, no accumulated body of wisdom.” Identified by the handicapped role alone, they “are stripped of their social being [and] reduced to mere biology.”
But the problem is not so much a matter of biology as it is one of perception. “Disabled children are handicapped by the public's attitude toward them,” said Jeptha V. Greer, director of the Council for Exceptional Children in Reston, Va. By labeling them as “defective,” society frees itself of the responsibility for excluding disabled children from normal activities and pursuits — from schools, jobs and a meaningful place in life. The result, Greer said, “is a terrible waste.”
No one knows for certain how many Americans are disabled, but estimates range up to 50 million people. Children are thought to make up approximately 20 percent of the total. In years past, most handicapped children received little, if any, education. Those that did rarely attended public schools, which, for the most part, were either unwilling or unable to meet their needs. However, considerable changes have taken place recently in the way public schools deal with handicapped youngsters. Largely because of two federal laws governing the rights of the disabled, handicapped children are now being identified in greater numbers, given more specialized attention, and, in many cases, being put into the same classrooms with “normal” children.