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Independent Living News & Policy from the National Council on Independent Living

Holding the Department of Education Accountable: The Importance of Guidance Documents

By Rachel Bass, NCIL Fall Policy Intern

As an individual with disabilities, I have experienced challenges during my educational career. I experienced many ups and downs, and there were tribulations that I needed to overcome.

Rachel Bass Signs I Love You in ASLIn some instances, I was refused reasonable accommodations, such as an aide for my physical needs, note takers, interpreters, and other support services. These types of services were crucial for my success in school. Because the school denied me full accessibility in the classroom, every night, I would spend hours with my mother tutoring me just to complete my homework. This went on for a couple of years before I realized that I had to stand up for myself. At the young age of nine, when I attended a meeting to go over my individualized educational plan, I had to learn to stand up for myself for the first time. I told them that I was not being treated equally and requested equal access to my education.

There was another occasion when I was in 10th grade: I had to have an aide to help with my personal needs due to my physical disability. She behaved unprofessionally, inappropriately, and aggressively towards me on a daily basis. She would constantly take advantage of both my disabilities. Also, she would intentionally embarrass me because of my disabilities. For example, she became very manipulating and constantly would come up to my nose, pointing her finger directly at my face, yelling, “Do you understand me, yes or no!” repeatedly until I replied “yes” because I did not hear or understand what she was saying at first due to my deafness. She did not have a lot of patience to work with me as a deaf individual. I felt so humiliated because I did not know why she was so angry with me. I had no idea what she wanted to convey to me. She also took it upon herself to decide how much physical help I needed, regardless of the doctor’s note that was given to the administrators from my physical therapist. My aide would constantly force me to take out my own books from my backpack, even though it was against the doctors’ and administrators’ orders and caused me physical pain. 

There were many other abusive incidents I was forced to endure as well. After being fed up with the constant unacceptable behavior from my aide and issues with receiving access for my education, I finally realized that I needed to speak up and advocate for my safety and accessibility needs. I called a meeting with the principal, assistant principal, and other members of the administration, and I hired an advocate to report what was going on. After a long and hard fight, my aide was finally removed per my request. I also began to receive the accommodations that I needed.

At those moments, I realized that I am a person first. I have the same rights as other people. Other people should not control me and my needs or wants just because I have disabilities. Through these experiences I have learned to accept myself as a person, as well as my disabilities.

These are just some of the many circumstances that I endured as a student with disabilities. After the long and hard fight to receive my reasonable accommodations, I was able to get what I needed at the end. My needs were able to be met because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The IDEA and ADA and their related guidance documents make it possible for students who face similar issues to understand and advocate for their rights. That’s why the Department of Education’s recent move to rescind hundreds of guidance documents is so concerning.

These documents are so significant in that they provide additional information so that our rights can be protected and implemented effectively. These guidance documents give students, family members, and schools a better understanding what these laws mean. Without these documents supporting these laws, it would be much more difficult to understand and advocate for my own needs as well as others in similar situations. With that better understanding of these laws, we can better advocate for our needs in the educational system. Therefore, it is critical to keep track of the Department of Education’s actions, and to hold them accountable for our accessibility needs in the system!

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