Catia Malaquias

Although this Report was prepared in relation to the American legal and policy context – which in numerous respects is different to the Australian context which is framed by the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and influenced by Australia’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – the Report makes many points and recommendations that resonate with the Australian experience and context.

The covering letter dated 4 August 2016 from the Chair of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disability (PCPID) to President Obama enclosing the Report (Click here to read it) states:

Despite the efforts of people with intellectual disabilities, their family members, and the greater disability community, people with intellectual disabilities are often directed to a path that leads to limited work, isolation from their community, and limited options to pursue a full life.

The members of the President’s Committee believe it is time to change that path.  It is time to integrate the trajectory for people with intellectual disabilities with the path of all citizens.  It is time to meld together the supports people with intellectual disabilities need with the education, services, supports, and opportunities to which all other American citizens have access.  It is time for people with intellectual disabilities to follow a truly inclusive trajectory that will create the opportunities to be included, to be full participants, to live independently, and to be economically self-sufficient.

In relation to the general topic of education the Executive Summary to the Report highlights the importance of families with a child with intellectual disability (ID) being given up-to-date information as to the possibilities for their child and the need to end segregated education settings and apply universal design for learning principles in teaching (each matters previously emphasised in SWJ IncludED for the Australian context – see links at the end of this article).  The Executive Summary states:

“1.          Family engagement early on in the process to support high expectations for students with disabilities

To begin, families of newborns and children with disabilities must be provided with the knowledge and supports to learn the possibilities for their children with ID. While strong messages regarding inclusion and high expectations come from many experienced families, self-advocates, and the greater disability community, families may still hear antiquated messages about their children’s options.  To combat these outdated messages and to provide families with the support and knowledge they need to help create the best opportunities for their children with ID, PCPID recommends a coordinated effort on the part of executive branch agencies to communicate as early as possible with families about the available supports and possibilities for their children with ID related to education, employment, health, and inclusive community living.

  1. Federal Education Policies and enforcement strategies to end segregation in schools

The President’s Committee also found that education is a key component to directing young people with ID to a path of full citizenship and inclusion in their communities.  Though great strides have been made to improving the academic outcomes for students with disabilities, challenges remain.  Students with ID are often excluded from the general education classrooms, have significantly lower graduation rates, and rarely participate in postsecondary education. PCPID recommends that all education settings be made more accessible, particularly using principles of universal design for learning, as well as improving the preparation for all teachers to be able to be able to address the educational achievement needs of children with disabilities.”

The Report also deals with the areas of:

Transition as a critical timeframe for establishing paths to higher education and career development; and

Self-Determination and Supported Decision-Making from early childhood throughout the individual’s life.

In relation to educating students with ID, some of the key recommendations of the Report which are compatible with the Australian context include:

  • “To continue the progress made in increasing expectations for students with disabilities, including those with ID, the outcome measures that State and local school districts must report should be integrated to focus on academic achievement, postsecondary education participation, and obtaining employment.” [recommendation 14]
  • “… families and community members, in addition to school leaders and educators as members of the IEP team determine what quality of inclusive experience a student is receiving, including the extent to which they are receiving high-quality instruction in the general education curriculum”. [recommendation 14]
  • “… the US Department of Education should develop technical assistance centres that will promote the use of universal design for learning (UDL) … in all schools.” [recommendation 15]
  • “… the US Department of Education should set professional standards for all educators, including school leaders, to be knowledgeable about the evidence-based practices of high-quality inclusive education and instruction for students with disabilities and to ensure that educators understand predictors for postschool success. … Teacher and school leader preparation programs that create high-quality educators prepared to teach with the attitude of high expectations for all students and possessing the skills to teach all students will create opportunities for children and youth with disabilities to achieve academic excellence.” [recommendation 16]
  • “The US Department of Education should offer guidance to States and local school districts on how to braid together funding … to create comprehensive, multi-tiered systems of academic and behavioural support for all students.” [recommendation 18]
  • “… the US Department of Education should establish a set of regional institutes for school leaders to provide them with knowledge and skills related to the implementation of inclusive, high-quality instruction settings for all students, including students with ID.” [recommendation 19]
  • “Coordinate all the US Department of Education grants to include inclusive education as the instructional model for students with disabilities. … Additionally, all research funded by the Institution of Education Science should include a priority for studies conducted in inclusive classroom settings … .” [recommendation 20]
  • A portion of federal funding] should be used for competitive grants to States and local school districts both to implement an inclusive, high-quality instructional model of education for all students and to reward districts that use such a model and show increased academic outcomes for students with disabilities, including those with ID.” [recommendation 24]
  • “Because of the critical nature of communication in educational attainment, the US Department of Education should issue guidance to States and local school districts regarding the responsibility of IEP teams to conduct high-quality communications assessments, performed by qualified and experienced personnel, and to provide the supports and services needed by students with communication needs in order for such students to access the general curriculum and communicate effectively with educators and peers.” [recommendation 28]

Related SWJ IncludED articles

UN Committee Clarifies Right to Inclusive Education

Presenting the “Big Idea” for All – Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – Practical Tips for Teachers (No. 4 Part C)

The Sound of Dragging Feet and the Misuse of “Parental Choice”

The Impacts and Trickery of “Choice”

[Cover photo © Phil Roeder]

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