Categorical Eligibility for Special Education: The Enshrinement of the Medical Model in Disability Policy


  • Sarah Triano



To qualify for the right to a free and appropriate public education, disabled students in most states must meet the categorical eligibility requirements outlined in Section 300.7 of IDEA. The fundamental question posed in this article is: do students with disabilities really have a right to equal educational opportunity when that right is tied to a stigmatizing label based on a medical model of disability? This article attempts to answer that question through an analysis of (a) the history of categorical eligibility for special education (b) its purpose and (c) its problems. It then examines some of the changes that have been proposed to current eligibility policies and practices. The article concludes with a rejection of both categorical and non-categorical eligibility and calls for a fundamental restructuring of the educational system and a reconceptualization of the right to equal educational opportunity for students with disabilities.