Insider Perspectives: Watching NCLD Advocate for Learning Disabilities Rights
NCLD welcomed two great additions to the policy team this summer! Michelle Bensignor and Robert Kansao joined the Washington, DC, office as interns. They have been important assets to the advocacy team as we stormed the Hill, met with Parent Leaders, and prepared for legislation of several federal education bills. They will be sorely missed come August. Here are a few of their experiences:
Michelle Bensignor graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007 and is currently studying for a Masters in Public Administration at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service. She has a keen interest in special education policy and is a politico at heart. Michelle has been an intern for NCLD since February 2012.
Special education policy has been an interest of mine for as long as I can remember. It was in the back of my mind as I studied psychology as an undergraduate, it was at the forefront of my work when I was an aide on Capitol Hill, and it was the reason I enrolled in graduate school. As a student in public policy at NYU, I have had the privilege of interning for the NCLD in both New York and Washington, DC.
My experience in advocacy has been rewarding and insightful. I am continually amazed by how NCLD works tirelessly to maintain and update our special education federal laws. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have made great strides for the LD community, but we have a long way to go. I have watched, and been a part of, NCLD’s efforts to improve teacher quality standards, update the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), and fight for special education services in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
I always knew there was a team in Washington, DC, fighting for the LD community, but NCLD’s advocacy team’s presence became all the more apparent when I attended a hearing on Capitol Hill that discussed the need to limit the practice of seclusion and restraint. I was appalled that in 2012, it is considered legal to physically restrain a child or relocate him in an isolated room. While this occurs among all students, children who receive special education service are disproportionately affected by this policy. NCLD took to the streets and advocated for a change in the federal law. Our team gathered support from other disabilities groups and met with Senate staff to discuss ways to combat this policy and limit the use of this practice to emergency situations only. I was proud to be a part of NCLD’s efforts to limit such horrific treatment.
Robert Kansao is a student at Boston College majoring in Sociology and Political Science. He is interested in learning about all forms of advocacy, but is particularly enthusiastic about education policy. Robert has been an intern at NCLD since the start of June.
Working as a policy intern has been an uplifting and enlightening experience. The passion surrounding children with LD is gratifying to see. Watching parents, advocates, and other supporters engage in this issue restores one’s faith in democracy. The individual and collective action I have witnessed here at NCLD leave me energized and enthused.
The most evident example of the passion and support demonstrated towards students with LD occurred before the end of my first week as an intern. NCLD flew Parent Leaders in to DC from across the country to visit their representative’s offices. Meeting these parents was a true privilege. Like all parents, they of course loved speaking about their kids, and I enjoyed learning about them and about their trials and triumphs. In speaking with these parents, one would never know that these are the very people who have helped shape the discourse of LD. Working from within their homes, school districts, and states to the federal level, these remarkable parents continue to make a difference, not only for the benefit of their child or even students with LD, but for all children.
Hearing these parents advocate to DC staffers about benefits and virtues of the ABLE, Bully, and Seclusion and Restraint Acts, underscored the power of grassroots advocacy and served as a lesson that policy is decided by those who “show up.” In whatever future field I find myself, I will most certainly carry with me these all too important lessons put forth by some very special people. Getting involved in issues one cares about is easy and gratifying, an obligation of good citizenry. But, most of all, it’s a privilege and one of which too few take advantage.