On July 14th and 15th, NCLD, Decoding Dyslexia, and other organizations came together with parent and student advocates from across the country for a Dyslexia Hill Day in Washington, DC. The two-day advocacy event included opportunities for parents to hear from policymakers, advocates, and researchers as well as to share their own stories with Congress. In educating Congress about the learning needs of children with dyslexia and other learning and attention issues, we focused on four key policies to ensure all students can succeed:
1. Identifying learning and attention issues early so that students can receive needed interventions;
2. Building educator expertise so that the majority of students with learning and attention issues who are in general education classrooms have access to appropriate instruction and supports;
3. Investing in special education and research through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), National Center for Special Education Research, National Science Foundation, and the National Institute for Child and Human Development; and
4. Ensuring federal agencies enforce existing laws such as IDEA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Rehabilitation Act.
We kicked things off Tuesday morning with an update from House Dyslexia Caucus Co-Chair and Science Committee Chair, Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX). Representative Smith shared how his bipartisan READ Act, directing the National Science Foundation to use existing funds to conduct dyslexia-specific legislation, would help to address the unique needs of students with dyslexia and other literacy challenges.
While parents heard from policymakers, advocates, and national organizations, their kids had their own Hill Day events in the next room. Student advocates led activities for their peers including creative technology and art projects focused on understanding and expressing individual strengths, challenges, and learning needs. NCLD Policy and Advocacy Intern, Eye to Eye Think Different Diplomat, and college sophomore, Dessie Weigel, shared self-advocacy tips that she wished she had known when she was in high school.
To wrap-up the busy day, we headed to the Newseum where the children were able to learn and explore while their parents attended Understood.org’s panel discussion, Dyslexia Understood: Research, Instruction, and Awareness. Here is NCLD’s Parent Advocacy Manager, Lyn Pollard, taking a selfie at the Newseum with her children and their new friends from around the country.
Taking it to the Hill
We started bright and early Wednesday morning with a congressional breakfast featuring Senators and Representatives who are strong advocates for children with learning and attention issues, many of whom have personal connections to dyslexia.
Representative Donna Edwards (D-MD) spoke passionately about the challenges she faced in getting her son, who has dyslexia, the supports that he needed. Edwards emphasized the importance of ensuring every child has access to the resources that they need to learn, regardless of their financial situation.
NCLD’s 2015 Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship Winner, Cody Trine, introduced Representative Larry Buschon (R-IN), to the audience.
Representative Buschon understands Cody’s challenges, as his own daughter was identified with dyslexia after years of struggling with unidentified learning issues.
Representative Buschon echoed Representative Edwards in emphasizing the importance of ensuring all students with learning issues are able to receive the support they need, wherever they live.
NCLD’s 2015 Anne Ford Scholarship Winner, Savannah Treviño-Casias, introduced Representative Matt Salmon (D-AZ), whose granddaughter has dyslexia. After learning about both her struggles with dyscalculia (a math disability) and her success as a recent graduate, Representative Salmon said, “I am very inspired by Savannah and the way she has overcome speed bumps.”
Minority Whip, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD), spoke about the role that self-advocates played in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and other important civil rights legislation. Although we have made major gains in the last 25 years, Representative Hoyer urged that continue to raise expectations for individuals with disabilities. Hoyer concluded by reiterating the importance of parents’ stories, explaining, “when you go into offices, you have information that Congress doesn’t have – you know your child and your school.”
Senator Christopher Murphy (D-CT) concluded the congressional breakfast by telling parents, “we need your help.” As Congress works to reauthorize our nation’s main education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), it is critical that they hear directly from parents about their child’s needs and abilities.
Advocacy in Action
With Senator Murphy’s words, “go, fight, win” ringing in their ears, parent and student advocates headed off to meet with their members of Congress. Pictured below: NCLD’s Associate Director of Federal Relations, Kim Hymes; Director of LD Resources, Sheldon Horowitz; and Cody Trine on their way to a congressional meeting.
Pictured below: Savannah Treviño-Casias and her grandmother meet with their Senator, Jeff Flake (R-AZ).
We wrapped up an amazing two days of advocacy events with a demonstration of assistive technology by AIM-VA and a student panel on “The Power of High Expectations: Preparing Students with Learning Disabilities to Excel in College and Career.”
The students, ranging from 8th grade to college-age, shared their own experiences with legislative staff. Brian Meersma, a Learning Ally 2015 scholarship winner and a Cornell student, talked about how he had trouble rhyming even as a young child although he was not identified with dyslexia and provided with supports and accommodations until later. Emphasizing the importance of early identification and intervention, he explained “maybe I wouldn’t have spent years struggling if my teachers had been trained in dyslexia.”
Our Work Continues
As families headed back home, the Senate took to the floor to vote on the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA) – their effort to reauthorize ESEA. On July 16th, the ECAA passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 81-17. Although the bill would ensure that parents and educators know how their child is doing in school, there is no accountability measure to ensure that schools or states actually intervene when students are struggling. There is still an opportunity to improve the bill before it becomes law as the Senate will have to reconcile their bill with the House version through a conference committee.
If you weren’t able to make it to Hill Day last month, there are plenty of other ways you can get involved this summer, wherever you are. Follow @LD_Advocate for updates on the conference committee appointees as Congress moves forward with ESEA and make your voice heard when the time comes!
Please feel free to view, download, and share pictures from Hill Day 2015, including photographs from the Understood Panel and the Congressional Breakfast.