The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is thankful for making strides during the past 40 years. Gerald Ford signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, now known as IDEA, on Nov. 29, 1975.

The law provided children with disabilities with an opportunity to attend public school along with building the foundation for the country’s commitment to ensure that children with disabilities had a chance to develop their talents and contribute to society.

The College of Education and Human Performance’s exceptional student education Pegasus professor and Lockheed Martin Eminent Scholar Lisa Dieker was selected as one of IDEA’s seven panelists during the organization’s 40-year anniversary celebration at the White House, held earlier this month.

The Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute provided faculty, staff and students with an opportunity to watch the televised, two-part event in their office, which featured Department of Education speakers, students with disabilities discussing how IDEA has fulfilled their lives and panelists providing presentations about individuals with disabilities and how IDEA can make a bigger difference in the future.

Exceptional education professor Suzanne M. Martin was thrilled to watch IDEA’s 40-year anniversary celebration.

“It was an amazing opportunity to see some of the most incredible leaders in the field of special education. IDEA really does level the playing field for children with disabilities, which is very important.”

For Dieker, IDEA has been part of her personal journey since she was a young child, and has given back by championing for individuals with disabilities. Her advocacy began after her brother was diagnosed with a rare and fatal brain disease during his youth. Her brother had to be institutionalized since his school didn’t have the resources to take care of him. With the help of Dieker’s parents and teachers, her brother was able to go back to school and lead a successful life after IDEA passed.

Her son, who is an elite athlete, was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child and has been attending college with the help of Dieker and her husband and teachers.

Dieker grew up with IDEA, but it became a part of her life for many reasons.

“I learned early on that life wasn’t fair. I’m a first-generation college kid that grew up in poverty, but clearly saw there were still people that didn’t have the same basic rights as a human early on and that really shaped my thinking.”

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education nominated Dieker as one of the panelists for IDEA’s 40-year anniversary celebration. She was “honored and humbled to be a voice for individuals with disabilities” as a selected panelist along with representing CEDHP during the milestone event.

During her presentation, she discussed development areas that could be beneficial to individuals with disabilities, such as, personalized teacher preparation and learning, coaching, virtual environments like TeachLivE, having a diversified teaching force, the use of technology and content, using a catalog of resources, and embracing new frontiers.

Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute Fellow and Project LEAD Scholar and exceptional education doctoral student Jennifer Holbrook enjoyed watching Dieker shine during the IDEA celebration.

“She’s my mentor, and it was amazing to watch her presentation. She’s the reason that I’m here at UCF because she has always been so connected to the field of special education and has opened doors. Seeing Dr. Dieker at the event and knowing she’s the one that’s leading me toward my future career as an educator and researcher is very inspiring.”