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The ADA Turns 25: Progress and Opportunities

Written by Aaron Loewenberg, Policy and Advocacy Intern | August 12, 2015

What Does the ADA Do For Your Child?

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This landmark civil rights law prohibits discrimination against your child not just in the classroom, but also on the bus, out to eat, even in college or at work.  Because of the ADA, Americans living with disabilities, including 2.5 million students with a learning disability, have guaranteed protections that ensure all public places are accessible.  When the ADA was updated in 2008, Congress made it explicit that the law includes people with learning disabilities.  For an adult with dyslexia, this means that an employer must make reasonable accommodations, such as extra time on a written test for a job application.

What the ADA Means to Me

This summer, I am a Policy and Advocacy intern at NCLD.  Prior to working for NCLD, I spent the last four years teaching Kindergarten at a school that serves many students with special needs.  As a Kindergarten teacher I saw the impact that federal laws, such as the ADA, had on the daily lives of my students.  Due to the ADA, students in wheelchairs had no trouble entering my classroom because my school had ramps and elevators designed to accommodate their needs.  More generally, my students with disabilities were treated as equals of their non-disabled peers due to laws such as the ADA that served to eliminate the stigma that has been historically attached to living with a disability.

25th Anniversary Celebration

On Friday, July 24th, I had the opportunity to attend the Department of Education’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ADA, which brought together government officials, education and disability policy experts, and student advocates.  Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education, spoke about the importance of ensuring assistive technology, like Bookshare, is available so that all students can access the curriculum.  As a teacher, I have seen the huge impact that technology can have in ensuring that all students are able to learn in a way that meets their individual needs.  Catherine Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, echoed this call and provided examples of efforts to ensure that the ADA and other federal laws are doing their job.  As emergent technology expands our world, Lhamon discussed her office’s push to ensure that online learning materials are accessible for all students, specifically those with dyslexia.

After the conclusion of the policy panels, we took part in a ceremony led by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as well as students with disabilities, including Hudson Lynam, who did a great job reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  Hudson is the son of Deb Lynam, a parent advocate with Decoding Dyslexia NJ and one of our partners at Learning Ally.  Following the ceremony, we were free to play! It was inspiring to see so many disabled athletes competing together and having fun.

The Next 25 Years

Students with disabilities have seen progress since the passage of the ADA. Over the last decade alone, the graduation rate for students with learning disabilities increased by 11% and the dropout rate decreased by 16%.  Yet, these students are significantly less likely than their peers to have access to advanced courses and are twice as likely to be suspended.  Clearly, there is still work to be done to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education.  We must continue to fight to ensure that the progress we have made in the last 25 years only accelerates over the next 25 years.  What does #ADA25 mean to you and your family?  Let us know @LD_Advocate!

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