Over the past few months, I’ve learned more about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) than any reasonable person should want to know, and, unfortunately, still know less about it than I need to as the parent of a special-needs child. As I’ve been climbing the incredibly steep mountain of knowledge required to be a good parent advocate, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive information from the NFB that’s made that mountain a little bit more climbable.
As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while (or you’ll find out shortly if you’re new), I’m a literacy nut. Since the first day I learned that Peanut’s retinas were detached and he had the potential to lose his eyesight entirely, I’ve been researching Braille and Braille literacy. I, frankly, do not care whether he reads with his eyeballs, his fingertips, or his belly-button: my little boy is going to be literate. This is what’s motivated me to start working on my literary braille transcription certificate, got me started learning braille through the Hadley School for the Blind’s excellent family education program, and had pre-braille on Peanut’s IFSPs since the beginning.
It turns out that IDEA is very friendly to the vision impaired in that it requires that braille education be provided to blind/VI children unless the IEP team agrees that it is not and will not be needed, and evaluations are done to confirm that. This means that your school district can’t deny your kiddo the right to read with his or her fingertips, and that they can’t tell you that they’ll “consider the need for braille.” The law’s already considered that need–and it says that braille will be “provided”:
Section 614 (d)(3)(B)(iii)
(B) Consideration of Special Factors.–The Individual Education Program (IEP) Team shall—
(iii) in the case of a child who is blind or visually impaired, provide for instruction in Braille and the use of Braille unless the IEP Team determines, after an evaluation of the child’s reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille), that instruction in Braille or the use of Braille is not appropriate for the child;
The best tool I had at a recent IEP meeting was a brochure provided by the NFB called Braille and Visually Impaired Students: What Does the Law Require? You can download a copy at http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdesped/download/pdf/blv-BrailleVIS_LawRequirements.pdf. This brochure both cites the applicable section of IDEA and explains it in layman’s terms.
Another excellent resource is the Spring 2004 special issue of Future Reflections (Vol 23, No 2). You can read this issue in its entirety at http://nfb.org/legacy/fr/fr14/fr04setc.htm. The NFB was kind enough to provide me with a hard copy of this issue, so I took the entire magazine with me to our IEP meeting. If you’re not a fan of hard copy or time is of the essence, the digital version should work just fine–you can pick and choose the articles you need. I recommend Carol Castellano’s “Your Child’s Right to Read” (http://nfb.org/legacy/fr/fr14/fr04se21.htm), and I cited Ruby Ryles “Research Study: Early Braille Education Vital” (http://nfb.org/legacy/fr/fr14/fr04se22.htm) as part of my Braille argument in our meeting. Since Peanut’s going to be a dual media kid (meaning he’ll use both print and Braille, at least for the forseeable future) and he does have some vision, Ryles’ statement that,
Results from that and a preliminary study suggest that partially sighted children may be at greater risk of literacy deficiencies than children who are totally blind
was particularly useful for me. Being able to say that “yeah, he can see, but that makes Braille education more important now, not less” was an excellent tool: educators do respond to published research like this, and it makes a powerful tool when you’re facing a resistant group.
I see no reason why Peanut’s Braille knowledge shouldn’t be commensurate with his print knowledge. He knows his print letters, so he should know his Braille letters. He knows his print numbers, so he should know his Braille numbers. There is no such thing as “too young” to learn to read. You can start pre-literacy activities while your kiddo’s still in the womb, and you don’t have to be able to see to enjoy having books read to you. If we’re going to give sighted children the benefit of early literacy instruction, we should demand that our blind and vision-impaired children get that same benefit. Fortunately, the law is there to back us in this fight.