Let’s talk IEPs! IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. IEPs were first introduced so that kids with disabilities could attend public school, a right that was legally recognized by the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) in 1975. Before that, kids with disabilities were not allowed to go to school at all and had to hide away at home. The EHA also provides that kids with disabilities have free access to transportation to and from school. Before disabled kids were allowed to attend public school, there was a law called the Ugly Law. Essentially, this law prevented people with disabilities from being out in public. Thankfully, these laws have been replaced by more inclusive legislation like IEPs.
The purpose of an IEP is to lay out special education instruction, support, and services a student with disabilities needs in order to thrive in school. IEPs are a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and are provided in school years K-12. Once a child is identified as struggling in school, they will be evaluated by the school’s psychologist. This evaluation will show the child’s strengths and weaknesses. To be eligible for an IEP, a child must meet 2 requirements. First, the disability must affect the child’s education performance and ability to learn in the general education curriculum. IDEA recognizes 13 of these qualifying disabilities: learning disabilities, other health impairments (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder, emotional disturbances, speech and language impairment, visual impairment, deafness, hearing impairment, deaf-blindness, orthopedic, intellectual disability, traumatic brain injury, and multiple disabilities.
Families and schools use the results to create a program of services of support tailored to meet the student’s needs. An IEP is a legal document, and it allows families to be involved in decisions that impact their child’s education. The IEP has specific goals, and it has to be reviewed yearly. The services are provided at no cost to families.
Similar to an IEP, 504 Plans help disabled children succeed at their own pace in school. A 504 plan is a roadmap for how the school will provide support and remove barriers for students with disabilities. These plans are a result of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This federal civil rights law stops discrimination against people with disabilities. Different from IEPs, 504 plans are a less structured way of providing accommodations for students. Both of these programs are available to K-12 students.
I had an IEP from 3rd through 12th grade. Some examples of my accommodations included extra time on tests and assignments if needed, having someone clarify test questions to me during exams if needed, and going to a room without distractions for tests. I also had speech therapy in elementary school: I had trouble pronouncing my “th” sounds. As I got older, I went back to speech therapy for an expressive language disorder to help me better express myself.
During a student’s junior year of high school, the IEP team will help students with transitioning beyond high school. This support could include help with applying and going to college, trade school, or a full-time job. In my case, I was connected to Vocational Rehab services and I received resources to help me in college.
Although there are no IEPs or 504 plans in college, most colleges have disability resource centers to help students get accommodations. Similar to my IEP, this program allowed me to have double time on exams, explanations on tests, and additional resources to help me complete my schoolwork. I was able to bring my dog to school with me as an emotional support animal.
I was also enrolled in a program called Blue Binder during college. Every week, I met with a University of Kentucky Disability Resource Center staff member to help plan my schedule and essentially kept me on track for the week. With the help of these accommodations, I was able to graduate with my Bachelor’s Degree!
If you are a parent, caregiver, or trusted guardian and you think that your child is struggling in school and might have a disability, the first place to start is by speaking with your child’s teachers and getting them tested. They might be eligible for an IEP or a 504 plan.
History of the Individualized Education Program (IEP). Education Alternatives. (2020, October 22). https://easchools.org/2020/10/22/history-of-the-individualized-education-program-iep/#:~:text=IEP%20was%20first%20introduced%20into,Act%20(EHA)%20in%201975.
Belsky, G. (2023, October 5). What is an IEP?. Understood. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/what-is-an-iep
The Understood Team. (n.d.). The difference between IEPS and 504 plans. The difference between IEPs and 504 plans. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/the-difference-between-ieps-and-504-plans
College Resources for students with an IEP or 504 plan. College Resources for Students with an IEP or 504 Plan. (2022, July 19). https://bold.org/blog/college-for-students-with-504-plan-iep/