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Summary of Supports and Services for Individuals with Disabilities in the United States

Importance of Early Intervention:

Research studies demonstrate the need for early identification of developmental delay/disabilities to achieve positive developmental outcomes. Birth-five years’ of a child’s life is the most critical period in terms of brain development. Brain research tells us that critical synaptic and neuronal connections are being made during this period. If a developmental delay or disability is identified during this period and appropriate intervention strategies are utilized-then there is a very high probability of positive developmental outcomes for a child. This sets the stage for a child’s future academic, social and personal experiences and well as independent living as an adult.

Supports and Services for Families:

In order for a child to benefit from timely intervention, it is important that there are systems in place for early identification. However, it is critical that once a child is identified as a child with a disability, that there are systems in place for early intervention services that a family can take advantage of. To elucidate this point, the following paragraphs use the example of the laws/legislations that are in place in the United States. A brief summary of the legislation is provided just to showcase the types of “systems” infrastructure that has been developed by the government at the national level, ranging from education to employment to assisted living options. This commitment to individuals with disabilities and their families in the form of legislation and funding at the national level translates to a comprehensive system of supports and services at the state level.

a) Provisions for Education: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a federal education program that helps states implement a comprehensive system of education for individuals with disabilities birth to 21 years of age. Under this act, section Part C is focused on providing supports and services to infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-three) and their families. Section Part B/619 is focused on the provision of support and services to preschoolers with disabilities (three to five years of age). The federal government provides funding to states and it is the states’ responsibility that each eligible child with disabilities receives free and appropriate public education. The comprehensive nature of this program ensures that each child is evaluated in timely manner to determine if they are eligible. Once an evaluation is completed and it is determined that the child is eligible for early intervention services, then an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is developed based on the child’s unique developmental needs. These intervention services may include (but not limited to): speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy etc.

b) Provisions for Employment: The following paragraphs summarize the key legislations related to access to employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) “protects individuals with mental or physical disabilities from discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public transportation, and telecommunications.”

For more information, go to:

Rehabilitation Act of 1973: Section 504 of this Act “protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. It forbids organizations and employers from excluding or denying individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to receive program benefits and services. It defines the rights of individuals with disabilities to participate in, and have access to, program benefits and services.” For more information, refer to (

  • Section 501 of this act “prohibits federal employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and requires them to take affirmative action to employ and advance in employment qualified individuals with disabilities.”

  • Section 508 of this act “ requires federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

c) Provisions for Assisted Living: In the United States, there are several types of residential options/independent living options available for individuals with developmental disabilities. Each state has its own menu of options available. These housing options may be funded through governmental agencies and charitable organizations. Families need to make choices based upon unique needs of their family member with disabilities. Summarized below are some of the residential options:

  • Independent Living: this option may be available for individuals with disabilities who have all the skills needed to live on their own or with a roommate. They may require periodic supports like help with grocery shopping, meal planning etc, but for the majority of the time, they are capable of living by themselves.

  • Supervised Living: this option is available is for individuals who need more than periodic supports for activities of daily living.

  • A boarding home: shared by a certain number of people and owned by an agency. The agency gives routine visits and on-call support.

  • Group homes: this option is available to individuals who need 24-hour supports for personal care. These supports may be related to self-help skills, activities of daily living, accessing employment options and participate in community activities.

In conclusion, the effective delivery of supports and services for individuals with disabilities and their families is based on a comprehensive system that invests resources in early identification, early intervention, individualized education planning, transition planning, access to employment opportunities, access to medical care and independent living options. In order for this multi-layered system of support to be “effective” and “scalable”, it needs to be embedded and implemented in the context of a national, state agency, legislative, community-oriented and family specific infrastructure.












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