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Is there a backlash against legal rights for the handicapped?

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Major legal rights gained by the handicapped in the 1970s are running into increasingly stiff opposition. Critics of programs for the handicapped do not deny that laws establishing such rights have led to much progress. Many thousands of disabled children who once received little intellectual stimulus now have been educated, often right alongside "normal" children. Many transit systems now accomodate persons in wheelchairs. Halfway houses and job training provide new hope for countless mentally disabled persons once locked away in wards of big, degrading institutions.

But:

* In these times of fiscal restraint, more and more parents and school administrators worry that, as large sums of money are spent to educate even the severely handicapped, normal children are being shortchanged.

* Transit officials contend that they cannot afford a full overhaul of their bus and train systems to accomodate persons in wheelchairs.

* Homeowners worried about the values of their properties are fighting establishment in their neighborhoods of halfway houses for the mentally handicapped.

* Congress and the courts have been reexamining some of the laws establishing rights of the handicapped -- and finding them too broad.

"As we saw in civil rights, there's a point at which people begin to say 'enough is enough,'" says John Parry, editor of Medical Disability Law Reporter, which is sponsored by the American Bar Association.

"The '70s were quite a receptive time for the rights of the handicapped, says Mr. Parry. "The '80s," he predicts, "are going to be very, very lean years."

Given a likely tighteing up on government spending in many the chanllenge of the '80s on behalf of the handicapped, say others, will be in using decreasing funds creatively to help the most people.

Here is what is happening in three critical areas:

Education. The federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 calls for "a free appropriate public education" -- wherever possible alonside nonhandicapped children.

Much progress has been made, despite only partial funding of the law, according to a House of Representatives sub-committee that recently completed a review of compliance.

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