Skip Navigation

Students with disabilities

Question:
How many students with disabilities receive services?

Response:

Enacted in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, mandates the provision of a free and appropriate public school education for eligible students ages 3–21. Eligible students are those identified by a team of professionals as having a disability that adversely affects academic performance and as being in need of special education and related services. Data collection activities to monitor compliance with IDEA began in 1976. From school year 2009–10 through 2019–20, the number of students ages 3–21 who received special education services under IDEA increased from 6.5 million, or 13 percent of total public school enrollment, to 7.3 million, or 14 percent of total public school enrollment.1


Percentage distribution of students ages 3–21 served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), by disability type: School year 2019–20

The data in this figure is described in the surrounding text.

1 Other health impairments include having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes.

NOTE: Data are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia only. Visual impairment, traumatic brain injury, and deaf-blindness are not shown because they each account for less than 0.5 percent of students served under IDEA. Due to categories not shown, detail does not sum to 100 percent. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded data.


Among students who received special education services under IDEA in school year 2019–20, the category of disabilities with the largest reported percentage of students was "specific learning disabilities." A specific learning disability is a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using spoken or written language that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Thirty-three percent of all students who received special education services had specific learning disabilities, 19 percent had speech or language impairments,2 and 15 percent had other health impairments (including having limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to chronic or acute health problems such as a heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia, hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes). Students with autism, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities, and emotional disturbances each accounted for between 5 and 11 percent of students served under IDEA. Students with multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, traumatic brain injuries, and deaf-blindness each accounted for 2 percent or less of those served under IDEA.

1Totals presented in this Fast Fact include imputations for states for which data were unavailable. See reference tables in the Digest of Education Statistics for more information. Data for students ages 3–21 and 6–21 served under IDEA are for the 50 states and the District of Columbia only. Number of children served as a percentage of total enrollment is based on total public school enrollment in prekindergarten through grade 12. Enrollment data for 2019–20 are projected.
2Speech or language impairments is defined as a communication disorder such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance.

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics. (2021). Students with Disabilities. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved January 10, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cgg.

Related Tables and Figures:  (Listed by Release Date)

Other Resources:  (Listed by Release Date)