Special education has a long history, but it wasn't until relatively recently, that it really became a standard part of education. One of the first schools to serve students with special needs was founded in 1787 in Paris. It was set up to serve students with vision impairments. From then until 1975, various schools or small initiatives were started around the United States to support students with special needs, but there was no assurance that every student would be able to participate fully in the public school setting.
In 1975, special education support became law in the United States when Congress enacted the "Education for All Handicapped Act" (Public Law 94-142). That law was approved to assure that all students, regardless of abilities, be allowed to participate in a free and appropriate public education.
The law was revised in 1983, 1986 and 1990 to expand the services and populations served. In 1990, the law was renamed the "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" (IDEA), and it is this version of the law that we currently use to assure that our students' needs are met.