By: Lyn Pollard, Parent Contributor, Published Date: February 21, 2013 1:24 PM
In my first two posts, I shared about how parents can use social media and online tools like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to boost their advocacy efforts. This week, I share my personal experience of how letters and emails can effectively boost advocacy efforts for your kids with learning disabilities (LD) and others like them.
By far the most effective advocacy tool for my two kids with disabilities is letter and email writing. True, I am a professional writer, but even if you're not, putting pen to paper (or actually fingers to keyboard in my case) is something that you can do.
Letters and emails have two major pluses. They are free and personal!
It doesn’t cost anything but your time to write a thoughtful, persuasive email that comes from your heart. And, when you send it personally to key decision makers that have a say in your child’s education, it gives you a powerful and extremely effective voice that can create change.
Why to Write
I’ve written lots of letters and emailed them strategically to people both directly and indirectly involved with making decisions about my children with LD and other disabilities.
The results? Measurable change.
Not necessarily the individualized changes that you ask for during IEP or 504 meetings. But change in the amount of and frequency with which my school administrators, board members, community leaders, neighbors and my child’s campus team are exposed to information about LD.
How’s it measurable? If you send a letter about LD, I can promise you that’s one more letter about LD these contacts would receive than if you had not sent a letter.
You can create change by the measure of one.
What a Letter Can DoThe 4 Big E's
A letter sent via email can:
Establish a direct communication channel outside of the confines of IEP and 504 meetings
Enhance accountability between the people who have been exposed to details about your child’s unique educational needs
Ease your ability to restate points made during IEP/504 meetings
For example, our dyslexic child is entitled to intensive, individualized dyslexia services on her school campus given by a qualified teacher using evidence-based, age-appropriate dyslexia curriculum according to Texas law. Based on my knowledge and research, I am able to clearly outline how and why in my emails.
Enable key decisions makers the opportunity to access resources, links, videos, books, etc. that you provide them information about.
Set a Goal
After many months of 504 and IEP meetings asking for our school to provide FAPE for our daughter, I realized that our only next option was either legal action or something else drastic. That’s when I had to think outside the box. I decided to try a little old fashioned communication, the most efficient way I knew how.Email!
Why couldn’t I step out of the “confidential” school IEP meetings and discuss my daughter’s LD-related needs with the people who were making decisions about her education in my school district and beyond?
My goal was to start up a conversation directly with the people who were responsible for and involved with my daughter’s special education.
What to Write
Make it Plain
What should your letter say? Exactly what you would like for decision makers in your school district and beyond to know about what you feel is missing from the conversation about your child’s needs.
For example, did you read a great online article last week that helped you understand your child’s LD? Send a link to your child’s campus team.
In your email, explain in a positive way why you found the article helpful, why you think it’s important to share it and what you hope will result from their new or increased knowledge.
Other things to share:
Your child’s own story or video about what it means to have an LD
Links to your favorite websites and online LD resources like LD.org
YouTube videos about LD that you find helpful
Your favorite LD Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest feeds
Be creative and innovative. Think about what you would want to tell decision makers about LD if you had just 5-10 minutes of their uninterrupted time.
Who to Write
Once you’ve written your letter, the order in which you extend your correspondence is important.
Start by reaching out to your child’s campus team and principal, including your IEP/504 committee. This is a best practice in terms of respecting your local educational entity, and making sure your principal is in the loop about your correspondence.
Then, decide who else you would like to be in touch with and add them to your email list or copy them on your next email to your campus team.
This might include your school board members, district administrators, your district’s federally-required district 504 personnel, the personnel in your school district in charge of meeting Adequate Yearly Progress or maybe even your local state representative or other community leader.
The Action Alert Center allows parents to write letters to their public officials to support LD-friendly positions on important legislation.
Maybe consider polishing your letter writing skills with your campus, school district and community leaders first, then expand your advocacy by elevating your concerns to your state legislators, U.S. Representatives and Senators with well written letters, as well.
Want to learn more? Wrightslaw.com is one of my favorite resources on letter writing for parent advocates of kids with LD and special needs.
Lyn Pollard is a freelance writer, parent advocate, and the mother of two kids who learn and play differently. A former journalist and change management consultant, Lyn writes, talks and tweets about advocacy, literacy and safe schools for kids with learning disabilities and special needs. Check out her piece in the New York Times.