Dear champion for a student with a disability:
Whether you are a student with a disability or an adult (parent, guardian, teacher or otherwise) who is championing success for a student with a disability, this guide is for you. Our goal is to be a timesaver for students with disabilities, as well as for the adults in their lives who care about them. This guide includes resources that can help pave the best educational and social-emotional path possible during this pandemic.
I myself am dyslexic and have ADHD. It was extremely hard for me to learn to read. Even today I need someone to check my math. It took a lot for me to gain the skills I needed to succeed. I owe a lot to my parents, especially my mother, who advocated for me. Could I have gained those skills using only remote learning? Yes, but it would have been even harder. Today, as a proud mother who knows what it means to parent a child with an IEP during this pandemic, our family lived through the school disasters this spring. No family should have to go through this again. Hence, we created this guide to hopefully ease this road for you.
To be clear, this guide is not original content. It is a compilation of the best resources we could find. It still will take you a lot of time to go through the links in the guide to find the ones that will work best for you. You also will need to keep up communication with your child’s schools and IEP/504 team.
The COVID-19 crisis has been hard on almost everyone. There has been loss of life, jobs and more. Tragically, it also has significantly harmed the 6.3 million students with disabilities who largely got lost in the chaos as schools moved from in-person classrooms to online learning. This is especially true for students who did not have good access to internet, computer devices or adults who had the time and skills to help them through online learning. Challenges also were compounded for the 740,000 students with disabilities who are English language learners, as well as the millions of others impacted by lack of access to food.
Still, even in homes with ample food, computer and internet access, and parents who were able to help daily, it was a mess for student with disabilities. Millions of students lost ground academically and many had significant increases in mental health issues. This was true even in some of the best funded and staffed school districts in America. Indeed, many teachers’ unions tried to avoid meeting the obligations of IEPs and 504s. Thankfully, the unions were not legally allowed to circumvent the law, and there is a lot of litigation pending. The fact is that no child with a disability or family should wait on litigation to try to find the best possible solution for education during this crisis.
That is why we created this guide. We know there are no simple or perfect answers. Our goal is to help you find solutions to help support students with disabilities, such that they thrive to the extent possible.
This fall, millions of students will return, or go forward, to classrooms. With that being said, due to the continuing pandemic, many schools will be a hybrid model of in-person and remote education. Others will be fully remote. Regardless, due to underlying medical conditions, many students will need to continue distanced learning, while other students with disabilities will be returning to a “new normal” riddled with virus-related safety concerns in schools.
It can be very challenging to be a student with a disability even in the best of times. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the gap in graduation and dropout rates between students with and without disabilities continued to undermine their futures. For example, in the class of 2018, only 66 percent of Black students with disabilities, 71 percent of Hispanic students with disabilities, 77 percent of white students with disabilities, and 79 percent of Asian-American students with disabilities completed high school. This compares to 87 percent students without disabilities overall. Furthermore, just seven percent of students born with a disability graduated from college pre-pandemic. As a nation we need to do better.
This guide is a stop-gap measure. School is about to start, and people need resources now, not later. Thus, with far less time than we might have wanted, we got to work. As such, your experience with each of the organizations listed in this guide may vary. If you have any feedback or encounter any difficulties with any of the resources listed, please let us know.
I, like many parents and people with disabilities, have found that advocacy is very important and can make a difference. We wrote to our child’s IEP team, principal, the school board, special education team, county, state and federal officials. It was clear that there was no playbook of proven solutions that everyone could follow. A lot of good people were trying to find solutions; but in a crisis, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. Thus, we who care about students with disabilities need to be loud and proud in our advocacy.
Thankfully, through ongoing engagement we were able to see significant progress in the plans for our local schools this fall. If you are a student with a disability or an adult who cares about a student with a disability, you too will need to develop relationships with the public officials who can impact the success of education, employment and other key issues for people with disabilities. The law is behind us and you will find that most are quite delighted to hear from you as they want to know what is really happening in communities and which solutions will work.
Want to share your thoughts and concerns with elected officials? We’ve made it easy!
RespectAbility has a free tool to help you connect with your elected officials. It is very simple to use. All you need to do is put in your name and address and it will automatically send your message to many relevant elected officials. Unfortunately, it does not have your school board or special education department, so you will want to go online separately and find those emails. But it will reach a large number of elected officials who need to hear from constituents who care.
To reach out to your elected officials via email, Twitter or phone, the easy-to-use form is available on our website: https://therespectabilityreport.org/2020/07/26/ada-action-alert.
Meanwhile, we hope this guide will be a big help to you in your journey to find educational solutions during this crisis.
If you know of other nonprofit and/or governmental resources that should be added to this guide, please send me an email at JenniferM@RespectAbility.org. We will continue to update this guide to offer people the resources they need during this challenging time.
We at RespectAbility wish you every success in your journey to a safe and successful school year ahead!