James Martin Cousins, who has autism, was a student at Indianapolis’ Metropolitan High School in 2011. He described his role in creating his Individualized Education Program (IEP). “Before high school, my parents went to all the IEP meetings and just came back and told me ‘this happened.’ Now I'm actually leading most of the meetings.” Teachers and administrators attend. “They essentially say ‘Okay here's what a student needs to graduate from high school.’ My parents will usually have a couple things to chime in on, and then I make the final decision.” Mandated by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the IEP establishes personal educational goals that, for students like James, may determine their path beyond school.
Until a few decades ago, the opportunity for making choices James described was rare. If you were born with an intellectual or developmental disability before the 1970s, you were in a different world. Beverly Rackley’s mother had been repeatedly presented with papers to sign over her daughter’s care to an institution. She refused, and when the seven year old needed to start school in Indianapolis in the late 1960s, she and her husband had to fight the school board to allow Beverly to ride the bus. Then, as Beverly recounts, “I had kidney problems in school so the teachers wouldn't take me to the restroom. So I had to change school nine times.”
“I just sat there all day long. I didn't do anything and I cried every night when I came home.”
Andrea Pepler-Murray’s family moved to Hammond, Indiana to obtain medical care for her cerebral palsy. In Pennsylvania she’d been in regular classes. Now she was placed in a segregated special education environment. She wore leg braces and used crutches; some people assumed she had a cognitive disability as well. “I just sat there all day long,” Murray recalls. “I didn't do anything and I cried every night when I came home.” “My father actually had to educate me until about the late sixties, when they were integrating us to get into public school.”