Since its inception, special education services have largely mirrored the segregated practices that have characterized service delivery for people with disabilities throughout history. Prior to 1975, students with disabilities were not required to be educated in the United States, and many children with the most significant disabilities were confined to institutions for life. When students with significant disabilities were allowed to attend school, they were usually grouped together in special education classes where the focus of instruction was to meet developmental needs (Brown, Nietupski, & Hamre-Nietupski, 1976) rather than to address their potential.
Born from a civil-rights perspective, there are now three converging areas of support for inclusive practices. Social justice and civil rights continue to guide the implementation of inclusive practices, including system-of-supports and social-model-of-disability perspectives. A second area of support comes from federal law, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 and supporting case law. Last, empirical research findings from the past four decades document the positive outcomes of inclusive education for students who do and do not experience disability.