Enabling the Disabled

In the rush of news lately, a Senate vote last week and a Supreme Court ruling this week may not have gotten the attention they deserve:

1) Last Thursday, the Senate followed the House in renewing the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. That law guarantees an equal and appropriate education for the nation's nearly 7 million children with disabilities.

The improved measures would reduce the paperwork that's frustrated schools and parents and promote mediation instead of the courts as a way to resolve disputes. They'd also give teachers needed flexibility in disciplining students with special needs, as long as their conduct is not a result of their disability.

Congress has long neglected to pay its promised 40 percent of the costs for special ed; it currently pays only 19 percent. Both the House and Senate bills would increasefederal support, with a view to reaching that 40 percent by 2011. That's commendable, but local schools need more certainty - and to keep the pressure on.

2) In a decision issued Monday, the Supreme Court departed from some recent rulings that put limits on states' obligations to abide by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. The Monday ruling found that Tennessee erred in not providing access to a courthouse for a person in a wheelchair who was required to go to the second floor for a traffic violation.

The decision, while narrowly confined to buildings for justice, could apply to other public venues, such as polling places, that also involve the exercise of fundamental rights.

The court's ruling helps set a tone that should work to improve the future for the some 43 million individuals with disabilities in the US.

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