Advocacy in Exceptional Communities: A Vital Key to Empowerment, Success, & Independence
The term advocate means to speak, plead or argue in favor of. Wrightslaw defines special education advocates as advocates who speak for children with disabilities and special needs who are unable to protect themselves. The advocate performs several functions: supports, helps, assists, and aids, speak and pleads on behalf of others, and fends and argues for people or causes. In the world of people with exceptional needs advocating is crucial. Unfortunately, there are often cases where people with exceptionalities do not receive what is necessary for them to be supported and successful in their classrooms. In these moments parents have to fight for their child’s rights, including a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When these situations arise, being informed of the laws, resources, and community connections and support can have positive implications for the individual and their families. Each individual who becomes educated, empowered and equipped with knowledge can then positively impact their own life and the lives of others.
The role of an advocate is fulfilled by many people. There are lay advocates, educational advocates, school personnel, and parents. We will primarily discuss resources for parent advocates. As a parent of a child with a disability, you have two goals: to ensure that the school provides your child with a “free appropriate public education” that includes “special education and related services designed to meet [the child’s] unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living…” 20 U.S.C. 1400(d) and to build a healthy working relationship with school.
So, where do we start? How do we do it?
Below are quick and resourceful tips to help provide support in the community and public education system.
A great place to start is by contacting your local disability board: Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester . They can help assign you to a case worker who can direct you to numerous resources. You can also get involved by joining a parent support group or advocacy group, like The Yellow Pages for SC Kids website. Reach out to other parents of children with disabilities and your child’s teacher.
Here are some great local agencies.The Family Resource Center for Disabilities and Special Needs provides educational resources for K-12, trainings, and transition tool kits. Another helpful resource is Local Advocate, Special Needs Advocacy & Consulting: Kelly Herrick. Like and follow her page for additional tips.
Here are some national resources to help you be more informed.
1.Disability Rights & Advocacy https://ldaamerica.org/advocacy/disability-rights-and-advocacy/ 2. Disability Laws & Advocacy https://www.wrightslaw.com
Public Education System:
In Wrights Law All About IEPs, he discusses Tips for advocating for your child’s IEP. He suggest that effective advocacy comes from research, planning, and preparation.
Gather information and review the file
Review the current IEP
Use test scores to monitor the progress
Identify problems and propose the solution
Wright suggests using the following Advocacy tools: 1. Pre-Meeting Worksheet
What do you want?
What does the school want?
What action do you want to take?
How motivated are they to give you what you want?
What will prevent them from giving you what they want?
How can you address their concerns and fears?
2. Prepare a Parent Agenda
Prepare for meetings
Identify concerns and list problems
Make requests and propose solutions to problems
Identify issues and problems that are not resolved
Improve parent-school relationships
Practice making Request
Additional IEP TIPS:
At Be The Change Charleston, we strive to empower and educate our participants, parents, and communities. We provide educational and informative resources through our Facebook page , blog, event calendar, and currently developing advocacy training and facilitate support groups for parents.
Our hope is to see more people with exceptional needs and their families gaining access to vital resources to help them live happy, inclusive, independent, and successful lives.
Help us by spreading the word on our blog and local resources like Family Resource Center for Disabilities and Special Needs.
List of Resources:
At a Glance: Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/your-childs-rights/basics-about-childs-rights/at-a-glance-free-and-appropriate-public-education
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): What You Need to Know
Wrightslaw All About IEPS
Wrightslaw From Emotions to Advocacy