Cover Photo: photo by Tom Woodward/flickr
photo by Tom Woodward/flickr

A Conversation About Disability Rights in Education

“We need to move our schools toward increased inclusion and disability justice.”


We are navigating all of this in our first language. We’ve done battle with our insurance company more times than I can count over the past three years, and even our ability to do that—to educate ourselves, understand our child’s rights, and advocate for them as a team—is a kind of privilege; it’s not something every parent has the capacity or the time to do.

s a nonstop fight. It’s a long game, but every day counts, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Our daughter’s current classroom teacher is wonderful, probably the ideal teacher for her first year of real schooling, but we’ve still had to put a lot of time and effort into helping special educators and school therapists recognize her strengths and how she learns best. It’s a never-ending job helping them understand what she can do, encouraging them not to underestimate her, emphasizing the unique way she learns and the accommodations and supports she needs in order to thrive.

I think the Common Core requirements—and universal public education goals more broadly—can construct a kind of box inside which many children with or without Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) just may not fit. And instead of questioning the box and how we have constructed it and tried to cram kids inside of it, we often decide the problems to fix are the kids themselves.

Something in me just broke watching DeVos speak about IDEA—the law that ensures my child’s access to the education that is her right—with such blasé ignorance. She clearly had not even bothered to educate herself about the rights of students with disabilities. And it’s hard not to assume this is because she just does not care about disabled students, their education, or their futures. I am often confronted with the fact that many view kids like mine as unimportant, less than deserving, but to see such views so firmly entrenched in and legitimized by this administration makes me feel so sick and angry and scared as a parent.

deserve

don’t

’s still early days and things could change. A lot of my worries stem from how things will go in the future, actually, because we’re still at the beginning of her education. I know my husband and I will always feel the need to be vigilant and make sure we’re aware of how things are going at school, what her team is doing, what else she needs. We’re always aware that things could change and we would need to advocate for something different. You can’t address an issue you don’t even know about, so you can’t drop your guard for a single week.

’ disparate experiences in their schoolevery RamonaAs for our younger daughter, I’m grateful she gets support and individualized planning at our school. But sometimes I feel the tradeoff for the good public school system we live in is this constant focus on levels and achievement and (eventually) test scores, and no matter how well they know her or how well they support her, I don’t know how she is going to fit into this very narrow framework for evaluation. I also don’t think the intense focus on goals and levels leaves much space for how most kids learn, even though I also see why schools and teachers are held accountable for them.

everyI

right

everyone

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Emily Brooks is a writer and advocate whose work focuses on disability rights, LGBTQ identity, and education. Nicole Chung is a writer and the managing editor of Catapult.

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