The Flatten Inaccessibility and Access and Engagement research reports demonstrated significant impacts of the pandemic on access to education, transportation, employment, and healthcare. As AFB continues our efforts to change policies and ensure that policymakers recognize and resolve these issues, we prepared a set of resources that you can use in your own self-advocacy. For each report, we published blog posts about how to use the reports as tools for advocacy:
- Five Ways to Use the Flatten Inaccessibility Report to Raise Awareness in Your Community
- It Takes a Village: Join the Access and Engagement Village and Advocate for the Education of Students with Visual Impairments
We also know that you may need more information to advocate on the issues that are most important to you. We encourage you to explore different advocacy routes below—from advocating with your child’s teachers to contacting local policymakers and members of Congress.
If you are using either report to advocate for yourself, we’d also appreciate learning how you are using the report in your advocacy, so that we can amplify your voice. Please reach out to the research team at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
COVID-19 Education Advocacy
Issues Related to Your Child’s Education or IEP
If a school district closes schools but continues to provide instruction, it must continue to provide students with a free appropriate public education, including the special education and related services in a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Although school districts are allowed limited flexibility of timelines for meeting certain requirements, if you have concerns about whether your child is receiving the services they should be receiving in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, you will need to document the concerns. Create a record of what services your child should be receiving and how they are or are not actually delivered. We recommend that you document days, times, and what did or did not occur. Also keep any emails or written communication from educators, therapists, or administrators. If you have a conversation with a professional, it is always best to follow-up with an email or note in which you state what was discussed and when.
Once you have documentation of your concerns, the next step is to approach your child’s teachers about the concern. In some cases, your child can engage in self-advocacy. For example, if a teacher is distributing PDF documents that are not accessible and your child is expected to use these during online instruction, your child can talk directly to their teacher about the barriers they are facing. Your child’s teachers may be dealing with many challenges but are often in the best position to correct a problem.
In other cases, children may not be receiving services that have been outlined on their IEP, Individualized Family Services Plan (IFSP), or a 504 Plan. In that case, you should request a meeting with your child’s case manager or the IFSP or IEP team. The IFSP or IEP team may need to reevaluate how services are being provided or consider revisions to the IFSP or IEP based on how COVID-19 is impacting your child’s education.
If you cannot resolve the issue with your child’s IFSP or IEP team, you may want to reach out to a local parent information center, which provides resources for parents, or your state’s protection and advocacy center, which can provide legal assistance. The U.S. Department of Education has issued question and answer documents for Part B (services for children ages 3 to 21 years) and Part C (services to children birth to 3 years) of the IDEA to assist districts and parents in ensuring that each child has an appropriate educational program in place.
Technology Access and Digital Accessibility
Forty-three percent of the school-age students whose family members responded to the Access and Engagement survey reported their child was unable to access content presented by teachers during online instruction because of accessibility issues. Eighty-five percent of teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) had at least one student who could not access online content because of their visual impairment. The IDEA guarantees students with disabilities access to a free appropriate public education. However, providing education through inaccessible or unusable tools, instructional materials, and platforms does not provide children who are blind or have low vision equal access to the classroom.
Schools have an obligation to procure and create digital educational resources that are fully accessible. Industry standards, such as the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, and government standards, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, provide a clear guide for schools and districts. If your child has been assigned technology that does not allow them to engage in learning or has not been offered the assistive technology needed to access their instruction, you should let your child’s teachers know and advocate for a technology assessment so it can be determined what tools are appropriate for your child. Your child must also receive instruction in how to use any technology tools that are provided.
But digital inaccessibility is a problem that diminishes the virtual educational experience of all students, and is best resolved through systemic coordination with product developers. We have provided a sample letter that you can send to local and state policymakers to raise awareness and advocate for better digital accessibility and inclusion in the classroom.
Additional Resources for Special Education
In many cases, school districts and states have been constrained by limited budgets. Providing laptops, assistive technology, and broadband to students who need them is expensive, as is procuring new learning platforms, modifying school buildings to meet safety protocols, organizing new ways of learning, and ensuring teachers are prepared and equipped to teach using virtual, in-person, and hybrid options. Congress has not provided additional aid to state and local governments to provide support educational operations since April.
We believe that investing more federal funding in special education will ensure that districts and states are fully equipped to provide continuing and new services. At this time, Congress is considering whether to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill before the holidays. Call on your representative and your two senators to provide additional funding specifically for special education needs.
What can you ask for?
- Ask for dedicated funding for special education, including early intervention and preparing professionals who specialize in serving blind and low vision students. That funding is provided under section 611 of the IDEA, section 619, Part C, and section 662.
- Ask for better access to assistive technology devices through increased funding for the Assistive Technology Act of 1998.
- Ask for Congress to call attention to and prioritize digital accessibility in schools.
What should you know before calling?
- Know who your two senators and one representative are. You can look up senators and representatives or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. If you call the switchboard, you’ll need to call back to contact a new member of Congress for each call.
- You may want to review the sample script below or write it out with your unique story.
- If you’re leaving a message on an answering machine, provide your phone number or email address so that someone in the office can get back to you.
Sample script: “Hello, my name is [name] and I live at [address, city, state]. I am calling to urge Congress to pass Coronavirus relief that provides additional resources for special education. My child receives services from [name of school district]. [Say a sentence or two about how the pandemic affects their education.] The American Foundation for the Blind released a study that found that 85% of teachers of students with visual impairments have students facing accessibility issues in the classroom. [I am concerned that my child and his/her/their peers are not able to access educational content because technology is inaccessible/the tools or materials needed are unavailable.] I am asking [Senator or Congressmember * name] to support additional funding for special education, including for assistive technology, early intervention services, and personnel preparation. State budget shortfalls should be addressed with more assistance from the federal government to avoid deep cuts that jeopardize the education of students who are blind, have low vision, are multiply disabled, or are deafblind. Thank you for your time and attention to this request.
Using Social Media
Advocacy on social media raises public awareness about the challenges that face people who are blind or have low vision. Use your voice to inform your followers while directing your post at policymakers who can help. Feel free to improvise using these sample posts as a guide and tag a policymaker who can respond to your issue. Add the hashtag #AccessEngagement and tag us (@AFB1921) so we can boost your post and share with others.
85% of teachers of students with visual impairments have students facing #accessibility issues. Special education teachers need resources, and students need accessible technology and materials. I urge @[insert policymaker’s Twitter handle] to pass more relief for schools. Afb.org/AccessEngagement
Educators working with students who are visually impaired provide individualized instruction, adapted materials, and support in accessing education during COVID. Support the recruitment, hiring, and retention of qualified personnel. #COVIDRelief @afb1921 #AccessEngagement
Tips for Effective Social Media Advocacy
- Tell your story, then link to the reports (afb.org/FlattenInaccessibility or afb.org/AccessEngagement) and use the hashtags #CovidRelief, #FlattenInaccessibility, or #AccessEngagement so that your post becomes part of the larger conversation.
- Use the statistics in the report to support your story. The Executive Summaries include some statistical highlights. You can also link to individual sections of the report that are important to your point.
- Consider making your posts public, so others can learn about your experiences and develop a deeper understanding of the challenges you experience as a person who is visually impaired.
- If you don’t use social media, you can still share the report with your friends and family by email or in a conversation.
- And remember, your personal story is the hook that makes others read your post and open up the report. The report then amplifies your voice.
AFB's Related Advocacy
In early December 2020, AFB sent two sets of letters to state, territorial, and District leaders regarding the ongoing concerns resulting from the pandemic and one letter to Congress urging action on federal emergency relief.
December 2020 Letter to State Governors
December 2020 Letter to State Public Education Leaders
December 2020 Letter to Congress: AFB Urges Congress to Consider Needs of People with Disabilities in Coronavirus Policies
August 2020 Letter to Congress on Federal Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
June 2020 Joint Letter to Governors from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities: Treat Transportation as an Essential Service
May 2020 Joint Letter from AFB and ACB to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Opposing Waivers
April 2020 Letter to Congress: AFB Calls for Expanding Support for Nation’s Students with Disabilities During COVID-19 Pandemic
March 2020 Joint Letter From AFB and ACB: Congress Must Protect the Civil Rights of Students with Disabilities
March 2020: An Open Letter to the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services