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American Annals of the Deaf

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The History of Inclusion in the United States

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                                                       In its report MR 67: Mental Retardation, Past and Present,
                                                       the President’s Committee on Mental Retardation urged
                                                       President Kennedy to help find ways to bring mental
                                                       retardation services to “low income, disadvantaged
                                                       neighborhoods, both urban and rural.”

Nearly 1,979,000 of those children in 1966 were enrolled in public school programs for the visually handicapped, hearing impaired, speech impaired, crippled or “special health,” emotionally disturbed and socially maladjusted, mentally retarded, or “other” (including severe learning disabilities, brain-injured, “culturally restricted,” or unreported). That figure also included 312,100 students in “gifted” programs, demonstrating an increased willingness to consider giftedness as an exceptionality worthy of special (and segregated) education. During that same period, the number of persons enrolled in residential schools for children who were deaf, blind, hearing or vision impaired, mentally retarded, or emotionally disturbed rose from 86,412 to 127,200, an increase of almost 68 percent. In those eight years, the number of school districts operating special education programs of some sort increased from 3,641 to 6,711, with the number of teachers assigned to special education in schools and institutions moving from just over 71,000 in 1963 to 82,000 three years later.13

A variety of reasons helps explain such dramatic increases in the number of students, teachers, and programs in special education during the 1960s. To begin with, two decades of establishing and strengthening permissive as well as mandatory state legislation that called for more thorough searching and identification of children with disabilities had clearly had an effect; more children requiring special education were being located in the community, brought to school, and accommodated in special programs. Making this easier were the increased tolerance and understanding of disability and the concurrent willingness of families to acknowledge a child’s disability and seek help for it. The aftereffects of World War II—with the heightened visibility of disabled persons and greater recognition of their potential for contributing to society—combined with the testimonials and encouragements of noted members of the community to facilitate this.

Another likely factor was the continuing effort to develop and implement more sophisticated procedures and instruments for diagnosing and classifying disabling conditions among children. Continued refinement of intelligence and other psychometric testing, more accurate and reliable instruments determining modality and other sensory deficits, and

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