The civil rights model is used to describe the current paradigm in United
States special education policy. This theoretical paradigm has
institutional implications that raise questions about what is in the best
interest of the child. By tracking the evolution of the paradigm through a
review of the history of disability and the disability movement, it is
evident that the civil rights paradigm has become the crux of federal
policymaking with regard to disabled citizens.
In addition to considering the practical side of policy and implementation, this report reflects on the theoretical traditions that are at the heart of equal opportunity policies. The conflicts and inconsistencies that exist on a theoretical level may impede policy solutions to equal opportunity on a practical level.
After establishing the institutionalization of the civil rights paradigm at the federal level through illustrating that, after years of refinement, the language and objectives of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains founded in the civil rights tradition, this study reviews the realities of the federal legislation at the state level. The reality of the legislation is that it fails to protect the rights of children as dictated by operating principles of IDEA. The gap in implementation raises questions about the usefulness of the civil rights paradigm and, more importantly, about using a strict civil rights framework to achieve equal opportunity.
The disability movement with respect to special education has always been on the fringe of abandonment. The demands are costly, and consensus rarely exists with respect to resource allocation. However, the disability movement is also a minority group that cuts across every possible language, ethnic and socioeconomic class, which opens doors for a diverse, strong advocay. Though a civil rights paradigm is not sufficient in addressing the inequities of special education, it is a step toward a more pluralistic society. At the same time, a pluralistic framework that accounts for cultural and attitudinal policies that encourage and applaud diversity is imperative for the success of special education.