Texans for Special Education Reform logo Blog

The Essentials

You’ve got to continue to grow, or you’re just like last night’s cornbread - stale and dry.
— Loretta Lynn, Singer
W3.CSS Template

Whether you're a disability community newbie or veteran, it's important to have a solid understanding of the ‘basics’ of special education.

Easy for us to say, right?

We get it. Special education is complicated. It's a world so full of acronyms, legalese, and other terminology, it's enough to make anyone's head spin. Don't worry - that's why we're here. Get started here with SPED 101, or what we call the Essentials.

Special Education Glossary

Access to the General Curriculum
Under IDEA, students with disabilities must have the opportunity to learn and be assessed on the same curriculum as that provided to students without disabilities.

Practices and procedures in the areas of presentation, response, setting, and timing/scheduling that provide equitable access during instruction and assessments for students with disabilities without altering the curriculum content.

Adapted Physical Education (APE)
A physical education (PE) program developed for students with disabilities who are not able to participate in the regular PE program with accommodations or modifications.

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)
A civil rights law that protects individuals with...

Texas & Special Education Acronyms
504 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
AAR Academic Achievement Record
ABA Applied Behavior Analysis
ADA Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
AEP Alternative Education Program
ADD Attention Deficit Disorder (Hyperactive and/or Inattentive types)
AGC Access to the General Curriculum
AI Auditory Impairment
APE Adaptive Physical Education
ARD Admission, Review and Dismissal
W3.CSS Template
Three Federal Laws You Need to Know

Click on each bar below to learn more.


  • Governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth - ranging in age from birth to 21 - with disabilities.

  • Replaced the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1990 and expanded discretionary programs.

  • Reauthorized in 2004.

  • Part B of IDEA covers children aged 3 - 21.

  • Part C of IDEA covers children aged 0 - 3.

  • Read the IDEA


  • A federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places open to the general public.

  • Purpose is to ensure people with disabilities have the same rights, access, and opportunities as all U.S. citizens.

  • Became law in 1990.

  • Read the ADA


  • Federal civil rights law that set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

  • Prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance. In part, it states:
    "No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705(20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance..."

  • Covers extracurricular and after school programs such as sports, music lessons, and afterschool care.

  • Read Important Parts A & D of Section 504, by Wrightslaw.com

Comparison of IEPs & 504 Plans

IEP 504 Plans
What It Does Provides individualized special education and related services to meet the unique needs of the child. These services are provided at no cost to parents. Provides accommodations to the learning environment to meet the needs of the child as adequately as other students. As with IEPs, a 504 plan is provided at no cost to parents.
What Law Applies The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - a federal special education law for children with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.
Who Is Eligible To be eligible there are two requirements:
  1. A child has one or more of the 13 specific disabilities listed in IDEA. Learning and attention issues usually qualify under OHI or Specific Learning Disability.
  2. The disability must affect the child’s educational performance and/or ability to learn and benefit from the general education curriculum.
The individual must:
  1. have a physical or mental impairment or have a record of such an impairment; or be regarded as having such an impairment.
  2. that substantially limits one or more major life activities including, but not limited to, learning, thinking and concentrating.
Who Creates the Program/Plan There are strict legal requirements about who participates in an ARD meeting to create/update an IEP. Members must include.... The rules about who’s on the 504 team are less specific than they are for an IEP. A 504 plan is created by a team of people who are familiar with the child and who understand the evaluation data and special services options. This might include....

We love what the folks over at Understood.org created to help clarify what the three most important federal laws affecting students with disabilities have to offer.

Be sure to click the buttons below to see the entire document.


English Version


Spanish Version

W3.CSS Template


W3.CSS Template

We envision a state in which all individuals with disabilities are identified, and receive an education that maximizes their future potential for post-secondary education, employment, community participation, and independent living.

Copyright 2017 Texans for Special Education Reform. All rights reserved.      
Read TxSER's Privacy Policy HERE.