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Self-Advocacy and Making an Impact on Education Policy

Written by Melissa Rey and Caida Mendelsohn | August 3, 2016

NCLD hosted a Congressional breakfast last month in Washington D.C., as part of a week of Dyslexia Hill Day events. Members of Congress spoke to a crowd of advocates, parents, and children whose lives have all been affected by learning disabilities.

Representative Larry Bucshon of Indiana (pictured above) shared his story about his daughter’s struggles to read and her eventual dyslexia diagnosis. On the verge of tears, he described his frustration with a school administrator who did not understand dyslexia.

Then he talked about how his experiences with his daughter helped him decide as a congressman to champion the rights of students with learning and attention issues.

His story struck a chord with the two of us—summer interns with NCLD. It was so similar to our own experiences as students with learning and attention issues in public school.

During our time in school, we often found the only way to get the resources we needed was to advocate for ourselves. We constantly had to explain our learning disabilities to teachers and administrators who did not understand the way we learned. It became our responsibility to defend our right to receive the accommodations necessary to do our best work.

Hearing Representative Bucshon’s story made us realize that self-advocacy doesn’t stop at the classroom, school, district, or state.

We are used to advocating for ourselves in our schools and in our workplaces. But what we didn’t recognize is that our experiences are connected to disability rights issues and education issues that are a lot bigger than us.

We realized we can use our experiences advocating for ourselves to support the work of policymakers who are working to affect larger change within the education system.

Many of the members of Congress talked about how they didn’t know much about the problems students with learning and attention issues faced until they either had a personal experience with their own child, like Representative Bucshon, or heard stories from students and families in their district. Hearing those stories from families is what inspired many of the members of Congress to become champions for the rights of the 1 and 5 students with learning and attention issues.

That made us realize how important it is to advocate beyond the classroom and school: parents and students who have shared their stories with their representatives have become advocates for all students with learning and attention issues.

That’s why we will continue to a share our stories and support legislation that addresses the problems that students with learning and attention issues face.

We encourage you to share your story with your representative, too. There are many ways to share your story with Congress members who can advocate for educational support for students with learning and attention issues.

Things you can do right now: write your congressperson a letter, visit their local office, or contact them by phone.

Click here to find out who your representative is: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find

Caida Mendelsohn and Melissa Rey served as public policy and advocacy interns this summer.

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