NCLD’s President and CEO Lindsay Jones Steps Down

After eight years with NCLD, President and CEO Lindsay Jones announced her resignation, effective February 4, 2022. 

“It’s been my great honor to work alongside NCLD’s Board of Directors and amazing, talented team to remove barriers and create opportunities for the 1 in 5 with learning disabilities and attention issues,” said Jones. “By lifting up the voices of young adults, families, educators and researchers from all walks of life, we’ve raised awareness in Congress and across the nation about the great strengths of those who learn differently. I am proud of what we’ve achieved together.”

Under Lindsay’s guidance, NCLD launched a young adult program, organized parent advocates, enacted a new strategic plan and built NCLD’s national policy portfolio, ensuring it is the leading voice for the 1 in 5 in disability and education. 

“We are grateful for Lindsay’s leadership and vision, especially in turbulent times,” said co-chairs Margi Booth and Joe Zimmel. “NCLD is strong and stable. Our Board of Directors is excited to continue NCLD’s great work and expand the impact of the organization as we move into the future.”

NCLD’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Kena Mayberry, will assume responsibilities for leading the NCLD team. NCLD’s Board is launching a national search and has retained a firm. More details will be announced shortly.

January 2022 Policy News Round-Up

NCLD joined partners in supporting inclusive school climate, NCLD provided input to ED on state accountability systems, the Fiscal Year (FY) 21 funding is due to expire next month, and a state bill on college accommodations was introduced in Arizona. See how NCLD worked on behalf of students with disabilities this month.

NCLD Joined 90 Organizations in Promoting Inclusive School Climates

NCLD joined 90 other civil rights and education organizations with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) calling on members of Congress to advance legislation promoting safe, healthy, and inclusive school climates. The letter specifically urged cosponsorship and support for the following five pieces of legislation:

  • Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act (S. 2125/ H.R. 4011)
  • Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 1858/H.R. 3474)
  • Protecting our Students in Schools Act (S. 2029/H.R. 3836)
  • Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2021 (S. 2410/H.R. 4402)
  • Ending PUSHOUT Act of 2021 (H.R. 2248)

Learn more about these bills through NCLD’s Action Center.  

NCLD Commented on ED’s Assessment and Accountability Guidance

NCLD provided input to the Department of Education (ED) on the recently released FAQ on COVID-19’s Impact on 2021-2022 Accountability Systems. In the letter, NCLD demonstrated continued support for quality statewide assessments that include students with disabilities and urged ED to uphold the expectation that schools, districts, and states are held accountable for equity gaps. 

NCLD urged ED to: 

  • Encourage states to establish the same, ambitious long-term goals for students with disabilities as their peers if they are amending their accountability plans
  • Include information on the administration of alternate assessments and the 1 percent cap on students who are assessed using these tests
  • Emphasize and clarify accommodation requirements for assessments 
  • Reiterate the requirements to report assessment results and participation rates on state report cards, including disaggregation by subgroups including students with disabilities

Read the letter here.

Federal Funding Set to Expire Next Month

Unless Congress acts, funding for the government will expire on February 18 resulting in a government shutdown. Currently, funding is frozen at FY 2021 levels. Congress will need to agree on spending levels, or enact another extension for current funding to keep the government open as negotiations continue. NCLD has urged the Appropriations Committees to increase funding for critical education programs and reiterated the time-sensitive nature of passing FY 2022 spending bills. 

Arizona HB 2031 Was Introduced in State Legislature to Support Higher Education Students with Disabilities

HB 2031 was recently introduced in the Arizona State Legislature, marking a major opportunity to increase accessibility for college students with disabilities in the state. The bill has passed in the state’s House of Representatives and moved to the state Senate. 

If passed, this bill would reduce barriers in the process to get accommodations for students with disabilities by requiring all institutions of higher education in Arizona to accept an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan as documentation of proof of a disability. Currently, most postsecondary institutions do not accept a student’s IEP or 504 Plan as proof of a disability, and most colleges and universities require a recent psycho-educational evaluation to be submitted as documentation.

If you are an Arizona resident, show your support for this bill by writing to your State senator. 

In Case You Missed It:

  • As the RISE Act gains support and co-sponsors in Congress, read 5 Things to Know Now About the RISE Act and show your support for the bill today!
  • Secretary Cardona shared his vision for education in America. Read his speech here
  • NCLD is pleased to share new, insightful reports from our partners. Check out Education Reform Now’s Driving Toward Equity report, an analysis of all states’ American Rescue Plan spending plans, and the National Disability Rights Network’s Out From the Shadows, a report on the informal removal of children with disabilities from public schools.

5 Things To Know Now About the RISE Act

Last year, members of Congress introduced the Respond, Innovate, Support, and Empower (RISE) Act which would reduce barriers and increase access to postsecondary opportunities for students with disabilities. NCLD and 40 other organizations support this bill but we need your help to push it forward. Together we can work to shape policy that reduces barriers and ensures opportunity and access for all. Talk isn’t enough. What we do depends on you: our advocates. We urge you to learn more about the RISE Act so that, together, we can dismantle inequitable systems for college students with disabilities. Here are 5 things to know:

1. The RISE Act allows students to use existing documentation as proof of a disability.

94% of students with learning disabilities received accommodations in high school, but only 17% received them in college. One reason for this is because many colleges and universities require students to submit a recent psycho-educational evaluation as documentation, which is a costly and burdensome process.

By allowing students with disabilities to submit a previous Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan as proof of a disability, the RISE Act would enable many more students with disabilities to receive accommodations to help them to succeed in college. These accommodations, such as extended time on tests, assistive technology like text-to-speech software, or a notetaker, enables equal access to college coursework. Individualized decisions about which accommodations a student can access would continue to be made by the college and the student.

2. If the RISE Act were passed, college faculty would receive more training on supporting students with disabilities.

The bill provides funding for the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities (NCCSD). The center provides information to young adults and families, but also support and training to college faculty on best practices to support students with disabilities. For example, NCCSD’s online clearinghouse has inclusive teaching and learning resources, disability-specific information on accommodations, and even considerations for teaching students with disabilities in an online or hybrid setting during the pandemic.

3. The RISE Act would require colleges and universities to report data on students with disabilities in the Integrated Postsecondary Data System (IPEDS).

IPEDS is the most comprehensive publicly-available source of data on the 7500+ postsecondary institutions in the United States. While IPEDS collects data on student characteristics such as race/ethnicity, income and age, it does not collect any data on students with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary institutions. If passed, the RISE Act would require colleges and universities to submit key data on undergraduate students with disabilities who are formally registered with the disability services office. This data would include:

  • The total number of students with disabilities enrolled
  • The percentage of students with disabilities of all undergraduate students
  • The number of students accessing or receiving accommodations
  • And the total number of degrees or credentials awarded to students with disabilities

4. President Biden has recognized these issues and committed to addressing them.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden pledged that he “will direct the Department of Education (ED) to provide guidance to all postsecondary programs to accept the accommodations students with disabilities have used in pre K-12 settings for postsecondary settings.”

NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council has asked ED to fulfill this pledge by issuing guidance to institutions of higher education. However, this guidance is not legally binding. Only passing federal legislation such as the RISE Act would change the law and require colleges and universities to reduce barriers to success for students with disabilities.

5. Support for the RISE Act is growing! Ask your Members of Congress to support it today.

Last July, the RISE Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate with bipartisan support from 10 members of Congress. Since then, hundreds of advocates have asked their representatives to support this piece of legislation and three more members of Congress are co-sponsors of the bill.

You can share your own story and ask your Members of Congress to support the RISE Act today:

October 2021 Policy News Round-Up

The President’s Build Back Better plan, the Senate releases FY 22 appropriations bills, ED releases Q&A on IDEA Part C, and Catherine Lhamon is confirmed as OCR’s Assistant Secretary. See how NCLD worked on behalf of students with disabilities this LD Awareness month.

White House Releases Framework and House Releases Revised Text for the Build Back Better Act

Negotiations continue on the President’s spending agenda. The original $3.5 trillion proposal has been revised to a $1.75 trillion bill that was released by the House Rules Committee on October 28th that follows the President’s framework. It is unclear when the House will vote on this bill or if there will be additional changes. Education and related investments in this bill include: 

  • $160.8 million for developing special education teachers 
  • $500 million for grants to support student college retention and completion
  • $300 million for funding to provide broader internet access
  • $400 billion for universal preschool and childcare

Investments that are no longer included in the bill include free community college and school infrastructure. 

NCLD has advocated for increased investment in educators and college retention and completion grants, which has included language in the bill that the grants will support students with disabilities in college. 

Read the President’s framework here and the draft text of the House’s bill here

Senate Released FY 2022 LHHS Appropriations Bill

On October 18th, the Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) released the text for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) Appropriations bill. The proposal provides a $25.4 billion (35%) increase over the FY 2021 level, a potential historic investment, but it is $4.4 billion less than the House and President’s budgets for the Department of Education (see graph from the Committee for Education Funding).

The Senate’s proposal includes: 

  • $15.4 billion for IDEA Part B (special education programs and services for school-aged children), a $2.5 billion increase from FY 21
  • $503 million for IDEA Part C (program for infants and toddlers), a $105 million increase from FY 21
  • $200 million for special education personnel preparation, a $110 million increase from FY 21

Programs in the Senate bill that were higher than the FY 22 House Bill include:

  • $1.32 billion for Title IV-A for student support and academic enrichment grants
  • $814 million for the Institute of Education Sciences, including $65 million for special education research

Read NCLD’s appropriations requests here

ED’s OSERS Release Two New Q&As to Complete Return to School Roadmap Series

ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has received requests from stakeholders asking that the Department clarify expectations and requirements for implementing IDEA in light of the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and as more schools and programs are returning to in-person services. The two new Q&A documents are:

OSERS’ August press release reaffirmed the importance of full IDEA implementation and these Q&A’s outline the information needed to ensure this. 

Catherine Lhamon Confirmed as Assistant Secretary for ED’s OCR

On October 20th, the Senate confirmed Catherine Lhamon as Assistant Secretary for the Office of Civil Rights. In this role, she is responsible for leading ED’s work to: 

  • Ensure justice for students who report discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, or age through the department’s complaint process
  • Investigate systemic discrimination
  • Issue policy guidance and provide technical assistance to assist schools, districts, and states in meeting their obligations under federal law
  • Collect and report data, such as the CRDC, to identify where students do and do not have equal opportunity in education

Read U.S. Secretary of Education Cardona’s statement on Catherine Lhamon’s confirmation here. NCLD and other disability rights organizations have advocated for Lhamon to be confirmed in this role, highlighting the commitment she has demonstrated to the civil rights of students with disabilities. 

In Case You Missed It:

  • Two of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members authored blog posts for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services for LD Awareness Month. Read Rachelle’s story, titled Forming a Disability Identity as a Dyslexic, here and Kayla’s story, Self-Worth, Encouragement, Times of Value: These Kept Me Going, here
  • Representatives Bruce Westerman and Julia Brownley introduced a National Dyslexia Awareness Month Resolution with 18 bipartisan co-sponsors. See the full list of co-sponsors and read the resolution here
  • President Biden issued an Executive Order on White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans. Read the President’s full Executive Order here

Join us for NCLD’s Annual Benefit on November 9th: Celebrating Forces for Change. The full event is free for all donors and registered attendees. Learn more and register here.

Pet Therapy and Learning Disabilities

This is a guest video blog from Lila Katz in celebration of LD Awareness Month. All month, we are celebrating stories of #ForcesforChange and #ForcesforLD. This brief documentary-style video explores Lila’s experiences with learning disabilities and how pet therapy has helped her and other students with disabilities.

Watch the full video blog here.

Lila is a senior in high school in NYC. She has dyslexia, ADHD and dysgraphia. She is an intern and pet therapist with Pets Together, a virtual pet therapy platform, and an intern with Make it Home, creating art and helping to furnish homes for families transitioning out of crisis and homelessness. She is the youngest of three sisters, is obsessed with her dogs, TJ & Rocky, and loves to create videos, draw, paint, write songs and dance.

Higher Education Can Help Bridge the LD Employment Gap

The learning disabled (LD) community faces a number of competing obstacles and opportunities.

While the overall employment rate is at its highest in years thanks in part to a marked labor shortage, the percentage of disabled people who are actually employed remains low —very low— by comparison.  In fact, the disability/LD employment gap is more like a chasm: the unemployment rate for persons with disabilities is more than twice that of those without disabilities. 

It need not be this way. There are a number of wind-at-the-back movements that would point towards greater opportunity for people with disabilities at work. Functional approaches designed to better address learning needs, such as assistive technology, are very common in schools and becoming more common in the workplace. Software such as Grammarly and Dragon Speech are inexpensive, easy to learn, and can make a dramatic difference in the writing quality and speed of those with learning disabilities. Additionally, cultural shifts in the workplace include better recognition of the value that people with disabilities bring to companies. There is a growing awareness, led by Google and SAP, that LD and other neurodiverse people can contribute to diverse thinking based on their unique life experiences.

Despite promising progress, the movement does face significant headwinds in the form of rampant stigma and process friction in obtaining accommodation that de-motivates students from disclosing. A foundational issue is the challenging transition that young adults face to employment. The path starts with a high school graduation rate for students with LD that falls 10 percentage points lower than the national average, leading to lower college enrollment and persistence, and significant challenges for many students transitioning into employment.  In other words, even if a person with LD is able to successfully navigate one step, the next is likely to come with a  new set of obstacles to overcome.  

Let’s look at the data more closely:

  • Students with disabilities have a high school graduation rate of 67.1%, compared to a national average of 84.6%. 
  • Those with learning disabilities attend four-year colleges at half the rate of their peers
  • Only 17% of college students with LD take advantage of disability services or learning resources at their institution 
  • In 2020, 17.9% of people with a disability were employed, compared to 61.8% of people without a disability. 

There are many solution areas to this friction, and higher education must play a more central role. While there are many highly effective disability centers on campus, higher ed can take an active role to cut a smoother path from high school to college to work to help the transition and reduce the friction. The Rise Act attempts to address many of these issues.

Instead of continued low-to-no educational attainment and limited career mobility, imagine a different scenario  — where high school students are encouraged to apply to colleges that are proactive in reaching students with learning disabilities and supporting their success through on-campus and virtual services. Imagine that those colleges identify and partner with employers interested in recruiting more college students with LD. What might happen to the LD employment gap if more institutions worked with both students and companies to ensure career success through individualized support and even building an infrastructure for LD at work (such as disability employee resource groups)? 

If higher education extends its reach laterally on campus, below (to high schools), and above (to employers), we can reduce friction for students in need. This puts University LD/Disability centers in the center of the conversation as strategic assets that not only can drive enrollment, and students success, but build relationships with community partners —all of which can drive social mobility and reduce the gap.

Kevin Rockmael has been a leader in the education ecosystem for more than 20 years. Currently, he is a Sr. Principal at Guild Education. Kevin has driven innovation at a number of leading education organizations, including Entangled Solutions, Kaplan, Intrax Cultural Exchange, and the UCLA Riordan MBA Fellowship program. He currently resides in Berkeley, CA.

Forming a Disability Identity as a Dyslexic

Is the learning disability of dyslexia, a disability? Well, of course, disability is right there in the name. But for much of my life, this was not a simple question to answer. If you had asked me at 10 if I, a dyslexic with ADHD, was disabled, I would have struggled to answer. I would have told you yes, dyslexia is listed as a disability in the DSM and is covered as a disability under IDEA and ADA. I was even in special education for my dyslexia. But did I personally identify as disabled? The question of whether a person is disabled can be complex. For many, a diagnosis does not automatically lead to identifying as disabled. Instead, disability can be a chosen identity.

Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, adults growing up told me I should not identify as disabled. I was told I was “differently abled” and to not categorize myself negatively (as in disabled). What was happening was I was being introduced to the societal views of the disabled and their perceptions of how to navigate this ableist society: by distancing myself from the term disabled. They wanted this so I would not be treated in the negative ways the disabled were. 

I quickly learned how society viewed the disabled. I saw differences in how my disabled versus non-disabled peers were treated. I remember kids making mean remarks because I got pulled out of the room for reading instruction and for the way I read, for which I was embarrassed. I remember a girl teasingly asked: “why can’t you read?” I explained I had dyslexia, a learning disability that makes it hard for me to read. She responded laughing, “so you are stupid and disabled?” I did not know how to respond. I tried to repeat what adults had told me, explaining I was not disabled. “No, I am `differently abled,’ not disabled like other disabled people,” but this explanation failed to make sense to me or this girl teasing me.

Slowly, I learned to distance myself from disability. I was solid in my identity as a dyslexic with ADHD, which I knew were disabilities, but I was not disabled, at least not like other disabled people. But I knew this was incongruent. I knew I was disabled. How could I ignore my identity as a disabled person when disabled is literally in the name learning disabled? The point of this was to make me fit in better, but it did the opposite. Instead, I felt like I fit in nowhere. I was neither disabled nor non-disabled; I was learning disabled, disabled with the qualifier of learning disabled. But I am thankful that I grew up with other learning disabled peers—the one space where I did fit in. This played a big part in maintaining my positive identity of being learning disabled. I may not have had a positive disability identity, but I had a community where I felt I belonged. In having this community, I was able to find joy in that part of myself that was dyslexic with ADHD. And this community continues to be important to my sense of self.

However, there were times where I could not avoid disability. I was inherently surrounded by and categorized with the disabled, whether I identified as disabled or not. While dyslexia is mainly a hidden disability and I usually passed as non-disabled, that was not always the case. When people perceived me as disabled, there was a noticeable difference in the way they interacted with me. I will always remember at 16 a girl my age walked up to me and started talking to me in a baby voice: raising her pitch, elongating her sounds, and lowering her vocabulary. This confused me before realizing she had perceived me as disabled and was thus infantilizing me. My knee-jerk reaction was to distance myself from disability and remind her that I was taking the same classes as her. She immediately changed her tone, turned red, and apologized. This was not the only time I had been perceived as disabled and as a result infantilized, but this experience stuck with me. I was unable to avoid the question of where I fit in with disability. Why, when infantilized, did I distance myself from disability instead of questioning why any disabled people were being treated in this way? Additionally, if she had been so embarrassed to treat a non-disabled person in that way, why did she think it was okay to do this to disabled people? This was around the start of the true deconstruction of my internalized ableism.

It was not until 18, 11 years into being diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, that I would identify as disabled without hesitation. To get there I had to deconstruct how I saw disability and how I saw myself within disability. I had to piece out if I really was not “disabled” or if I just saw disability negatively and did not want others putting their perception of “disabled” on me. I deconstructed by learning from the actually disabled community. I read on disability from disabled perspectives. I learned about disability history and culture. I questioned the views I held. This work radicalized the way I saw disability and myself as a disabled person. I learned there is an expansive disabled community, one with history and belonging. Disability is neither fully positive nor negative, but dynamic. I grew to self-identify as disabled with pride. In doing so, I have gained self-confidence in showing up as myself, felt validated in my experiences, and continue to learn and grow.

The disabled community is diverse. There was a time while I deconstructed where I worried I was not disabled enough to call myself disabled, and that I was in some way invalidating the experiences of other disabled people by identifying as disabled. However, I can recognize my experiences as a dyslexic with ADHD are not going to be the same as all others in the disabled community. I can recognize the privilege in my ability to “pass” as non-disabled given the invisible nature of my disability. Additionally, the privilege I hold in having different support and access needs as compared to other disabled people. However, by recognizing these differences, we can create one unified disability community. There is little reason for us learning disabled people to distance ourselves from the disabled community. When we as learning disabled people distance ourselves from the disabled, we further marginalize the disabled community and push the idea that disability is negative and to be avoided.

When we stand together, we as disabled people make up a large part of the population. Yes, we can further categorize ourselves into our specific disabilities, but we must also come together as a disability community. Despite disability being in the name learning disability, it took me longer than it should have to get to this point. Today, I am dyslexic with ADHD, I am disabled, and I maintain no reservations in the pride I hold in these identities.

This blog was written by Rachelle Johnson, one of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members.

Self-Worth at the Heart, Encouragement in the Veins; Times of Value Kept Me Going

When attempting to draw conclusions as to why I have been spared from many of the unfavorable statistics encountered by large percentages of people with learning disabilities, I have been able to explain it in part by the self-worth I was taught to have for myself and the times I have felt valued in school. 

Navigating formal schooling hasn’t been an easy task for me, I’ve had several hits to my self-esteem when I’ve underperformed and I have had a disproportionate amount of stress and anxiety regarding passing classes and scoring well enough on important tests. It often felt like I never was really standing on solid ground or that I was living in a world not made for me.

Thinking of all the snags I had hit that had beaten down on me over the last 18 years, all I could think was “this is where my dyslexia catches up to me,”. His response, however, was surprising, and exactly what I needed.

Early on in my first semester of college, I had a professor hold me back after class to instruct me that I should start using the reading and writing center, as he found my writing skills not on par with what they needed to be to succeed in college. I had barely passed the writing proficiency needed to graduate high school and I started to break down when I told him of my learning disability. Thinking of all the snags I had hit that had beaten down on me over the last 18 years, all I could think was “this is where my dyslexia catches up to me,”. His response, however, was surprising, and exactly what I needed. 

He told me that while the other students were more proficient writers, I had a deep way of thinking that was unteachable and that I should not get caught up on that. His comment and others like it helped pull me through hundreds of hours of writing papers that were often marked down due to grammar, organization, or because I couldn’t articulate an idea clearly. When critiques were mingled with words of praise, when educators showed an interest in me, who I was and what I had to offer, it engaged me and challenged me to push myself to further my contributions both in written thought and through my participation on projects. 

But I have been spared the worst of it in part due to my sense of self worth, even in discouraging times.

I did not feel like learning disabilities and the experiences of people with dyslexia were completely understood by my teachers and professors, but it made a difference when they would take an interest in me. As a person with dyslexia in this society, I run a higher risk of dropping out of high school or college, struggling with mental health issues, enduring law enforcement actions, experiencing poverty, and more. All of those are statistics that show the grim reality faced by people with learning disabilities. But I have been spared the worst of it in part due to my sense of self-worth, even in discouraging times. I would not have been as well off as I am if it was not for the supportive words and actions of some of my educators. 

There will always be more we can do to promote the welfare of people with learning disabilities. We need more research to be done, better teaching practices to be implemented, and to devise strategies that can address the social issues we face. Making these changes can lift up students with disabilities and change their lives, and the lives of all students. Caring educators enhance and improve the experiences of students. If it weren’t for the educators who taught me, the life experiences that prepared me, and the self-worth I developed throughout my life, I might not be here today to write this blog and to fight for systemic change for students with learning disabilities.

This blog was written by Kayla Queen, one of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council members.

NCLD And Understood Partner On New Resources For Educators

WASHINGTON, D.C. – September 28, 2021 – The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and Understood, a non-profit, social impact organization and lifelong guide for people with learning and thinking differences, have partnered to develop educator resources that provide guidance on how to improve educational outcomes for students with learning disabilities and attention issues. The resources are in response to the findings of surveys commissioned by NCLD and Understood by the CERES Institute for Children & Youth at Boston University on general educators’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The survey, Supporting Students with Learning and Attention Issues During COVID-19, provides insights directly from educators on the struggles and successes of the 2020-21 school year. While 87% reported that they love teaching, the results showed that our nation’s educators are facing severe burnout and seeking resources to help their students. A majority of respondents shared the following areas where they need the most support:

  • Strategies to catch students up to grade level (60%)
  • Social and emotional support for teachers (57%)
  • Strategies to keep students engaged and motivated (56%)
  • Strategies to support the unique learning needs of students with learning and attention issues (54%)

“We are asking educators to do more than ever. The data has shown us that the workload on teachers contributes to and exacerbates teacher burnout,” said Lindsay E. Jones, President and CEO of NCLD. “It is imperative that policymakers provide increased funding for educator supports, create robust systems of technical assistance and professional development, and enhance data collection to support educators in serving all students, especially those with disabilities.”

NCLD and Understood incorporated these survey findings into their recently released guides, Forward Together: Pandemic Lessons for Effective Teaching Practices. This includes four new resources to help educators and policymakers use evidence-based strategies to meet the growing needs of students with learning and attention issues:

  • Collaboration: Strategies to partner with colleagues, families, and caregivers to promote student success.
  • Flexible Grouping: A highly effective strategy for creating an inclusive classroom culture that honors learner variability.
  • Positive Behavior Supports: Evidence-based approaches for promoting behavior that is conducive to learning.
  • Policy Recommendations: NCLD released new policy recommendations for school, district, and state leaders to address educator burnout, student disengagement, and unfinished learning.

“With the learning challenges that the pandemic has exacerbated, we must provide resources for teachers, parents and caregivers, and students alike to help them navigate,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “Having specific, evidence-based strategies to aid teachers in their support of children with learning and thinking differences and that can benefit others has never been more important.”

To download the report and guidebook, visit NCLD here. Visit for additional research and resources including Take N.O.T.E., a web-based interactive experience for parents who may need a guide to identify signs of learning and thinking differences. 

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

For more information, please contact:
Lindsay Kubatzky, Director of Policy and Advocacy;

1 in 5 Americans have learning and thinking differences, such as ADHD and dyslexia. They are often misunderstood, undiagnosed, and dismissed, and these differences are viewed as a weakness. This leaves many on a journey that is stacked against them and costs society more than $500 billion. Understood is the only lifelong guide for those who learn and think differently. Today, we help more than 20 million people each year discover their potential, learn how to take control, find community, and stay on a positive path along each stage of life’s journey. When others join this journey, and people are broadly embraced, everyone thrives. Understood is a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation based in New York. For more information, or to become a partner, visit and follow us on Twitter @UnderstoodOrg. 

For more information, please contact:
Kendall Brodie, Communications Manager;

NCLD Announces The 2021 Everyday Champion Award Winners

Washington, DC – September 23, 2021 – The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) has announced the winners of the 2021 Everyday Champion Award. Susan Maurer, an educator at William Allen Middle School in Moorestown, NJ, and Jenny Tucker Mottes, an administrator at the Frostig School in Pasadena, CA, were chosen as this year’s everyday champions.

The Everyday Champion Award recognizes those who have gone above and beyond helping children with learning and attention issues while distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five children nationwide has a learning disability or attention issues and these champions have been crucial to their success in the classroom.

Maurer and Tucker Mottes were selected by the following criteria:

  • Dedication to students with learning disabilities and attention issues and their families.
  • Modeling integrity, fairness, compassion, and resiliency.
  • Advocating for persons with learning disabilities.
  • Provides services to students with learning and attention issues on a direct or leadership level.

The award program includes two categories: educators and school administrators. Ten finalists were selected for their achievements with one winner chosen from each category. The winners are granted $5,000 each and will be honored at NCLD’s Annual Benefit this fall. The full list of finalists can be found below.

Educator Winner:

Susan Maurer (Moorestown, NJ)

Educator Finalists:

Michelle Rolfert (Newark, NJ)

Michelle Freddolimo (Colorado Springs, CO)

Julia Salamone (Conshohocken, PA)

Jacob Sapp (Henry County, GA)

School Administrator Winner:

Jenny Tucker Mottes (Pasadena, CA)

School Administrator Finalists:

Sharon Plante (Southport, CT)

Devon Green (Santa Ana, CA)

Eric Tucker (New York, NY)

Linda Donaldson (Colorado Springs, CO)



The Everyday Champion Award recognizes two individuals who have provided exceptional support to students with learning disabilities and attention issues throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 


The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) is the leading organization representing the learning disability community. NCLD improves the lives of all people with learning disabilities and attention issues by empowering parents, enabling young adults, transforming schools, and creating policy and advocacy impact. Learn more and read the latest news at


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More to Life Than More: A Conversation with Alan Pesky

SHH: I am Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., senior advisor of strategic innovation, research, and insights at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. And it’s my pleasure to be chatting with Alan Pesky, a former long-standing member of NCLD’s board of directors. 

Alan, let me begin by saying congratulations on a wonderful book, More to Life Than More — a memoir that will undoubtedly touch the hearts of parents whose journey, like yours, was shaped by anxiety and adventure, lamenting and longing, worry and wishing, obligation and opportunity, and most of all, unbounding love.

The Not-Always-So-Smooth Runway from Early Learning to Living

SHH: Reflecting on your experience with Lee and his many transitions — from high school to postsecondary education to the workplace and to a path to an independent life — what would you say high schools can do better to support students like Lee, as well as you and Wendy and your family? 

AP: Thank you, Sheldon, for the opportunity to speak with you about my experiences in parenting a child with learning disabilities (LDs) and sharing what I’ve learned since founding the Lee Pesky Learning Center (LPLC). I’m grateful for everything NCLD has done to promote understanding about the science of learning and to advocate for those who learn differently.

As you and I both know, when schools and educators recognize and accept that all kids learn a bit differently, when there’s good communication between teachers and parents, and when schools have protocols in place for supporting and accommodating kids with learning disabilities, those kids are much more likely to thrive. 

In high school, planning ahead is a big part of the equation. What does a student who has learning differences want to do after high school? How is she hoping to achieve her goals? It’s helpful when schools can engage students and their families in transition planning by discussing post-graduation options and the pros and cons associated with each. And they should encourage such students to play an active role in shaping their own Individualized Education Program (IEP) by including their goals. (An IEP, for readers unfamiliar with the term, is a dynamic document that maps out the special ed support, instructions, and services that enable a student with learning disabilities to progress and thrive in school. IEPs are covered by IDEA — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — and are usually developed by school staff and parents based on assessments from special education professionals and others.) Participating in this process will help the student build her self-determination and self-advocacy skills — something she will need as a learner and worker. 

The support of high school teams should extend to helping students and families understand the requirements of two- and four-year colleges as well as the supports that may be available to them, if this is the route the student chooses to follow. Things like contacting each college’s Office of Disability Services and asking questions related to accommodations available on campus, and working with families to research whether colleges are just “going through the motions” and complying with the most basic of federal requirements, or if they strive to be inclusive and advocate for students who learn differently. 

And it’s also very important for high schools to provide accurate information about federal disability protections, like informing students and parents that the federal law related to pre-K through 12th-grade students (IDEA) is not the same federal law that applies to postsecondary education. Having the necessary, relevant information can help smooth the way as the student pursues academic goals after high school.

SHH: What should colleges know and do better? 

AP: I’ve seen firsthand that some schools do a great job onboarding and supporting students with LDs. But unfortunately, large discrepancies exist across colleges. It’s my understanding that on most campuses, the professionals working in the Office of Disability Services don’t always communicate with professors working in academic departments and vice versa. It’s most often left to the students to find responsive professors and advocate with those professors to get what they need in order to enjoy academic success. This is very challenging for kids, given the power imbalance between professors and students. Those in college leadership roles (college deans, director of disability services, etc.) can always improve systems and supports for students with LDs. College is hard enough as it is under the best of circumstances. I don’t think the burden should be on the students with LDs to figure out how to navigate a system which was not designed for them. 

SHH: What changes in the workplace (recruitment, hiring, managing/supervising, promoting) do you think (know!) would propel kids like Lee to finding their way in a world that is sometimes unfriendly toward and often misunderstanding of learning and attention issues? 

AP: Most important, I think we should be encouraging all young people to pursue work that has value and meaning for them. When companies and organizations create strength-based positions that illuminate an individual’s unique contributions, everyone benefits. Based on my own experience in the corporate and nonprofit worlds, wherever possible, it helps to be innovative and less rigid in position definitions. And once a position has been formulated, employers should share explicit workplace expectations and review them with the employee regularly. Lastly, all employers must be educated about the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and held accountable when they discriminate on the basis of disability.

Advice from The Head and The Heart

SHH: Your personal journey (with Wendy and Lee’s siblings, of course) makes you uniquely qualified to talk from the “parent” perspective about what kids like Lee need. What are some of the most important things parents need, need to know, and need to do? 

AP: I get this question a lot from parents. The first thing I tell them is, you are the greatest advocate for your children. If you think your child is struggling with learning in some fashion, don’t delay in getting them evaluated and diagnosed by a qualified professional. There is nothing to be gained by denial or delay. There is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. Learning differences are a matter of information processing, not indicators of a child’s intellectual capacity or motivation. The sooner you have accurate information, the sooner your child can get the help he or she needs. Then make sure the school has that information too, so that everyone is on the same page. 

Second — and this is where I would have loved to have had a “do-over” with Lee — be patient with your child and sensitive to what they might be going through. Avoid judgment. Chances are your kid is already trying their hardest. Be reasonable with your expectations, and be honest with yourself about what you expect of your child: Is it for your gratification or does it reflect your child’s desires and who they are?

SHH: Same question about educators. 

AP: Communication and transparency! Make sure your child’s teachers are familiar with his or her issues and the recommended remediation. Encourage them to establish a dialogue with the learning specialist who formulated the remediation plan. Ask the teachers how you can support their efforts in helping your child.

Above all, treat your child’s teachers as partners, not as adversaries. Granted, it’s an upsetting, scary thing to watch your child struggle with learning. But being combative with teachers is not going to help. I don’t know of a teacher who does not want their students to succeed. 

SHH: And what about people in the community (i.e., clergy, coaches, local employers)?

AP: This is a tough one, and I don’t have a simple answer. In most situations, I believe it’s helpful to be open about the challenges your child is dealing with, and even advocate for them, when it might affect how they will be treated and the quality of the experience they’ll get out of an activity. That said, it’s important to be sensitive to your child’s desire for privacy. They might not be comfortable with you sharing certain information about them. This is a delicate line to walk. The stigma surrounding learning differences is certainly lessening. But your child may not see it that way, so talk to them. You might ask them how they feel about it and what it means to them before you talk to people in the community about it.

Making A Difference

SHH: The evolution of the Lee Pesky Learning Center seems to have been a natural fit for you as a builder and entrepreneur, from identifying the unmet needs of the marketplace, to recruiting the right people, measuring impact, and expanding a menu of deliverables that offer solutions to individuals with learning and attention issues, their families, and their communities of care. 

Back in 1975, your instincts and motivation for creating a “home” for evaluation and treatment services were very personal. Did you consider other options? For example, a national media campaign to raise awareness of learning and attention issues might have been right up your alley! 

AP: The idea to do something in Lee’s memory was conceived while he was sick, shortly before he passed away. Helping children who have LDs was an obvious choice. Media campaigns can be very effective at raising awareness. But when I was starting in 1995, a national media campaign would have been a mammoth undertaking, far beyond my capabilities. And it probably would have been premature because there was still relatively little understanding on the front lines of education and among the general public about learning disabilities. Even among education specialists, the expertise was not nearly where it is today. 

As you mentioned in your question, I wanted whatever I did to be personal. I wanted to make a “hands-on” difference in the lives of children and their families — something I could put my heart into. And since there were so few facilities in the country that could provide diagnoses, remediation, and counseling under one roof, I felt this is where I could make the greatest impact, and it seemed doable.

SHH: And thinking about the many current LPLC programs and services (including publishing instructional guides, advising the state department of education, offering pre-service and ongoing professional development to educators, and more), what’s missing? Are there some big ideas or expanded opportunities you hope to realize at the center? Or can you envision ways that the LPLC might increase its impact through partnerships in or outside of Idaho? 

AP: LPLC has always relied strongly on partnerships, as we point out in More to Life Than More. In fact, collaboration has been a cornerstone of our philosophy and approach since day one. We could have never gotten off the ground if we hadn’t worked closely with state agencies, legislators, school districts, teachers, and foundations. A partnership that gave us a big boost early on was with the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. They prepared a case study about the establishment of LPLC, which is still being used in their Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector curriculum. Our association with a leading business school gave us added credibility to forge new partnerships and seek support from prominent foundations. 

We’ve had opportunities to expand by joining larger organizations. But bigger is not necessarily better. We’ve always been very intentional about how we choose to expand, so that 1.) We don’t stray from our core mission or get distracted by being pulled into things that are not our forte, and 2.) We don’t compromise on the science of what works. Partnerships, like the one we have with Boise State’s College of Education, have given us the ability to expand our reach, to make an impact far beyond our footprint. Other examples include a partnership with Lafayette College and Yale University on the early detection of dyslexia. Because of these collaborations, we have come far beyond what I or anyone else could have envisioned when we first opened our doors. 

So, what’s missing? There’s always more for us to learn, more ways for us to improve, more people to reach. For us, the “big idea” has been, and will continue to be, leveraging our expertise for greater impact. The first big leap was taking what we learned in working one-on-one with children with learning disabilities and parlaying that expertise to advance early literacy in our state. In helping pre-K through second-grade teachers use evidence-based reading instruction in their classrooms, we can help lift the tide for all young learners, not only those with learning disabilities. The Idaho Early Literacy Project is a culmination of that effort: a three-year collaboration launched in 2018 involving seven school districts, 200 educators, and 3,000 students. 

Our mission will always be to help children find a pathway to learning. But how we view that continuously evolves and broadens, as we learn to look at challenges in education from different angles. For example, LPLC’s partnership with Boise State’s College of Education has, according to the former dean, led the college to invest more in research, which, in turn, strengthens its ability to contribute to advancements in the field of education. We also move the needle by preparing the next generation of special ed professionals through internships at the center. And in expanding our definition of obstacles to learning to include inequities in our educational system, we are finding ways to support Latinx students to pursue careers in education. Literacy affects us all. The more approaches we can use, however small, to make sustainable, systemic improvements, the better.

Inside and Out, Stigma Hurts 

SHH: The book is filled with examples of how hard it was for Lee to be true to himself when others saw him as different, not connecting the dots in predictable ways (or, more likely, having a different set of dots to connect!) compared to others. Unfortunately, being different, needing something different, and coming to terms with those differences is a hard and lonely road, one that is often complicated by feelings of shame and low self-worth. I get the impression that over time, Lee embraced who he was, knew what made him happy, and knew what he needed to succeed, in no small part because of the support and encouragement he received at home and through a tight community of friends. 

Can you share some examples of how Lee struggled with and overcame these feelings? What was it like for you to watch these struggles unfold, and were there ways that you helped Lee feel good about himself even during the most difficult of times?

AP: Remember that when Lee was in school and even a young adult, awareness and understanding about learning disabilities were still very rudimentary. Since we as parents had no knowledge of LDs, we weren’t able to understand what he was struggling with. The impact on kids like Lee was devastating because schools and parents had expectations that were misaligned with how these kids learned. It was a perfect storm for screwing up a child. 

I think Wendy and I did all we could with the information we had. The biggest problem we had was a lack of understanding. It wasn’t until Lee graduated from college, started his own business, and found a woman he loved, that he blossomed. Once he was out of an environment that placed unreasonable and restrictive expectations on him, he thrived. As I watched him during those years, I started to see a “different” Lee, one whom I had not allowed myself to see. Our relationship improved once I put aside my expectations and trusted the decisions he was making for himself. I have often wondered what might have been, how he would have continued to evolve based on what we were seeing. What a cruel twist of fate that cancer took him just as he was coming into his own.

Changing Minds with Words 

SHH: In the more than two decades we’ve known each other, I’ve always been a little envious: Your every day at work involved “word play,” and it’s clear from your narrative that you enjoyed the challenge of shaping messages that impacted public perceptions and behaviors in powerful ways. Generations of consumers have been influenced by slogans such as “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken” and “We have to answer to a higher authority.”

What might you offer as a few public-facing slogans that could move the needle for individuals with learning and attention issues? And if that’s an unreasonable lift without first pulling together your creative dream team, what are some of the words or phrases that would drive the creative process? 

AP: Here are phrases I find myself using most often:

  • The problem with a child who has learning disabilities is not the child. It’s everyone around the child who doesn’t understand why he isn’t performing to his apparent abilities. 
  • Love the child you have, rather than the child you want.
  • Your dreams for your child are not necessarily your child’s dreams.
  • Leave your ego out of it. Use trust instead.
  • Think with the other person’s head, feel with the other person’s heart.

If The Sea and The Seal Could Talk

SHH: In May 2006, you gave me a copy of The Sea and the Seal, inscribed with worlds of friendship, and it’s been cherished, nestled among the dozens of children’s books that I have collected over the years. When you shared your manuscript with me, I remembered those words and drawings and how deeply I was touched, imagining what Lee might say if he could share words of reflection and encouragement. 

Having spent countless hours immersed in reflection and contemplation about Lee’s “inner voice,” what advice do you think Lee would offer to young people who have learning and attention issues as they find their way to “more”?

AP: I think this is what Lee would say to another young person: Talk to your parents. “Try and understand that I’m doing my best but it’s not happening the way the school or you want it to happen. Let’s figure this out together, figure out a way to help me. Here’s what I really love doing. It may not be what you or my school is looking for. I know that you want me to be happy and successful, but your version and my version of happiness and success may not be the same. And that’s OK.” 

SHH: Alan, thank you for the opportunity to share this time with you and learn even more about the magic that was Lee and the gifts that he brought to you, your family, and to us all. 

Alan Pesky is the founder of Lee Pesky Learning Center (LPLC), a nonprofit working with families, schools, and communities to overcome obstacles to learning. In its 25 years, LPLC has become a nationally known force for early literacy. Alan was a founding partner of the advertising agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves. He and his wife, Wendy, are ardent supporters of education and humanitarian causes. Now residing in Ketchum, Idaho, they were honored in 2005 as Outstanding Philanthropists of the Year in Idaho. Alan has served as trustee of his alma maters, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and Lafayette College, and is a former member of NCLD’s Board of Directors. 

August 2021 Policy News Round-Up

The infrastructure bill and budget resolution moved forward in Congress,  ED announced the automatic discharge of student loans for certain people with disabilities, the Office of Special Education Programs released data on disability and race, CRDC to collect data for two consecutive years, and ED reiterates IDEA implementation. See how NCLD worked on behalf of students with disabilities this month.

Congress Approves Budget Resolution That Calls for Huge Education Investments

The Senate approved a $3.5 trillion budget resolution on August 11th, followed by the House on August 24th. The budget resolution contains reconciliation instructions for Committees. NCLD was pleased that the budget resolution passed by the Senate prioritized education funding: the Senate HELP ($726.38 billion over 10 years) and House Education and Labor Committees ($779.5 billion over 10 years) received the largest instructions for spending. 

The Congressional budget resolution the responsibility of how to allocate funds to the discretion of each Committee. However, Senators have shared that the final reconciliation bill could include:

  • Universal Pre-K for 3 and 4-year olds  
  • Child care for working families  
  • Tuition-free community college  
  • Investments in HBCUs, MSIs, HSIs, TCUs, and ANNHIs  
  • Increase the maximum Pell grant award  
  • School infrastructure, student success grants, and educator investments   
  • Workforce development and job training
  • And more. See this memorandum

Nonetheless, we know that Members of Congress will face difficult decisions on how to spend these funds. NCLD sent a letter to Members of Congress to urge investments in comprehensive educator preparation and postsecondary education student supports. 

Senate Passes Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

On August 10th, the Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which grants $550 billion for the improvements of roads, highways, bridges, and broadband. The bill is bipartisan and awaits approval from the House. Provisions for education include supporting energy improvements at public school facilities, increasing transportation efficiency for school buses, and increasing access to broadband. 

For more information, see here.

Federal Student Loan Discharge for Borrowers with Total and Permanent Disabilities

On August 19th, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that they will automatically discharge $5.8 billion of student loans for over 323,000 borrowers with total and permanent disabilities. This new policy allows ED to identify these borrowers by matching data with the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

See here for more information on this updated policy.

Office of Special Education Programs Release New Data on Disability and Race

The Office of Special Education Programs released an OSEP Fast Facts and supplemental tool focused on race and ethnicity of children with disabilities served under IDEA served under Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A few key highlights include: 

  • Hispanic students with disabilities are more likely to be identified with hearing impairment or specific learning disability than their peers with disabilities.
  • American Indian or Alaska Native students with disabilities are more likely to drop out than their peers with disabilities and less likely to be inside a general education class less than 40% of the day than all students with disabilities.
  • White students with disabilities are more likely to be served inside a regular class 80% or more of the day than all students with disabilities and less likely to be identified with specific learning disability or intellectual disability than their peers with disabilities. 

More data can be found here

Office of Civil Rights To Collect Civil Rights Data for Two Consecutive Years

In an unprecedented move, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced their decision to collect data via the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) from all public-school districts and schools, two years in a row, for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. This effort will enhance the accuracy and timeliness of this critical tool for tracking potential civil rights violations and responding to discrimination and inequity in communities.

See ED’s press release here.

ED’s New Guidance Reaffirms Importance of Full Implementation of IDEA Amidst Pandemic

ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) sent a letter to its state and local partners reiterating its commitment to ensuring children with disabilities and their families have successful early intervention and educational experiences in the 2021-2022 school year. Guidance on Child Find Under IDEA Part B was released with the letter, reaffirming the importance of identification, location, and evaluation of all children with disabilities. 

See NCLD’s statement here

In Case You Missed It:

  • NCLD and Understood released research findings from surveys and focus groups with educators and across the country to understand their experience during the pandemic and identify trends for how they are supporting students with learning and attention issues. This work includes four new resources to help educators and policymakers use evidence-based strategies to meet the growing needs of students with learning and attention issues during COVID-19 and as schools prepare for a full return to in-person learning. 
  • NCLD and 14 partner civil rights, business, and education advocacy organizations wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona asking for clarity on how ED will provide guidance and oversight to states in fulfilling ESSA’s testing requirements for the 2021-2022 school year.