Father of the IEP

Carmen Hinkey | February 2014

James Gallagher in a special education classroom full of children embraces two of them sitting on his lap. Last month a pioneer died. James Gallagher was the man who introduced the idea of an individualized education plan (IEP) and a tireless advocate of the idea that every child deserves a free and appropriate public education, regardless of physical or intellectual abilities. He was the person most responsible for the passage of the 1975 landmark legislation now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Not coincidentally, the advocacy behind this legislation drove the design and production of the first adaptive seating from Rifton, and the genesis of a product line written into IEPs throughout the nation’s schools.

As recounted in his New York Times obituary (worth reading in full), Gallagher liked to tell a parable to explain to the public why every child deserves an appropriate education. It goes like this:

“A local school board, petitioned to meet the needs of a group of exceptional students, was asked to furnish them with extra transportation, purpose-built equipment, specially trained instructors and time out from regular classes. The board demurred, until it learned the precise nature of the exceptional group: the school’s varsity football team.”

It’s a parable that applies to this day. Join us in honoring James Gallagher and his legacy.


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