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What 30 Years of the ADA Means to Early Childhood

The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30 this year and has been significant in improving access to higher quality child care for many children with disabilities in the U.S. We still have a long way to go in both serving children with special needs in community child care settings and in making sure quality settings are available for every child; but this federal law demands that public accommodations, which include child care, be accessible by all.

In the 30 years since its passage, early educators have advanced their knowledge of what inclusion really means and how to achieve it. Inclusion is belonging and belonging means participating. Most of the time, adaptations and accommodations for a child with a special need are part of the ongoing developmentally appropriate practice for all children, the individualized instruction that each child needs in order to be successful. Fortunately, there are many supports that are state and federally funded to help teachers gain skills and knowledge to include all children.

What is still a problem in the U.S. is the expulsion of preschool children at an alarming rate, according to research going back more than 10 years. Many of the children kicked out of preschools and child care programs have assessed disabilities like ADHD, autism, or other behavior disorders, but many of these children are not disagnosed. Not yet anyway. The ADA still protects a child without a diagnosis if someone 'perceives' them as having a disability or if one of several life functions is interfered with in daily life. This is an important consideration when it comes to preventing expulsion by considering not just what is the right thing to do, but also what is the legal thing to do.

When the ADA was passed into law unanimously by Congress in 1990, the Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said what should still guide us today:

" The ADA is a pronouncement that our society will no longer tolerate lost potential—that we will no longer judge people by their disabilities, but by their abilities—that we will no longer design a society which excludes, but one that includes.” --E. Kemp, EEOC

Let's make sure all children belong, that all are included.

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