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Review of the WrightsLaw Special Education Law & Advocacy Workshop I Attended

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Earlier this month, I attended an one-day workshop pertaining to Special Education Law and Advocacy in West Columbia, SC.  Being that I am a disability rights consultant who is determined to assist disabled students and their families when it comes to obtaining the accommodations and resources they are entitled to, as well as the fact that I want to become a disability rights/civil rights lawyer, I believed it to be imperative that I attend such an event.  I was not sure what to expect from the workshop, but I left with a burning desire to teach myself about this area, and to empower and support individuals affected.

Why Special Education Matters, & the Troubling Realities Disabled Students Face in Our Schools

Special Education is important to me because I was under the special education umbrella as a physically disabled student.  Though I was in mainstream classes, I needed accommodations to ensure that my educational experience was equal to those of my able-bodied peers.  I consider myself very fortunate to have had a Grandmother, who was my advocate, to make sure I was treated fairly, and obtained the resources and assistance I needed, as well as have been a student within a school district that did it best to provide for  my needs.  Those two factors were key to me excelling beyond anyone’s expectations academically, and gave me the confidence to grasp that my disability should not hinder my ability to learn, socialize, and grow into a young person.  

Though I have been out of secondary school for 11 years, I see that many disabled students are not afforded the same experience I had.  The pursestrings of many school districts today are tighter than they were back then, and it is disabled students who suffer from budget cuts and reductions in resources that are implemented to save a few dollars.  

It is not only the smaller special education budgets that have caught my attention in how different things are from when I was growing up – the attitudes educators and administrators have towards disabled students are startling.  Though most in the education field work tirelessly to educate and advocate for disabled students, there is a small minority that are unsupportive to disabled students that make headlines and have pegged schools as being discriminatory and exclusionary.  When disabled students are excluded, segregated, unfairly disciplined, and unjustly set apart from their peers due to their disability status(es), they overwhelmingly feel the ostracization and are made to believe that their differences are unfavorable.  No student, regardless of disability status, should ever endure that kind of negative realization about who, what, and how they are, especially from adults who are in positions of authority who should know better.  Reading such stories of problematic actions and attitudes undertaken by educators towards disabled students angers me greatly, as it should all of us.  The need to advocate for disabled students against such gross forms of ableism is dire, now more than ever.  

How Participating in Special Education Law & Advocacy Workshops Helps Everyone

In order to uplift the quality of education and inclusion for disabled students in our schools, we must first understand the laws that were established to protect their rights to a free and appropriate education, and what exactly does that entails.  There is so much misinformation about the special education laws from both sides – families and advocates, and educators and administrators.  Educating oneself on what the laws actually states, and the interpretations over the years of key sections, allows the misinterpretations and ignorance to dwindle.  

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The books & pen/highlighter I received as an attendee to the SPED workshop.

From the above image of the four books I received from attending the workshop, you can see how extensive the laws and this particular area of disability rights are, and the plethora of details within them.  It was impossible for our facilitator to go over everything in one day, but he gave us the essential tools needed to know how to read the laws, and how to research further if we had questions or interests that were not covered that day.  I was incredibly happy to have received the four books because I knew the amount of information each had would allow me to learn so much about this area.  The books have something for everyone – parents/caregivers, advocates, educators, helping professionals, lawyers, and so forth.  I ardently believe that if one reads these books, they would arm themselves with knowledge that will allow them to fully support the rights of disabled students, and be confident to voice their opinions when injustices, whether intentional or not, have occurred.  Advocating for our disabled students should be a top priority to us all; their successes or failures at the hands of a prejudiced, inaccessible, non-accommodating school system is a travesty that we all bear.  

Final Thoughts

This workshop was the first one that focused on a disability-related topic, and I am glad to have been able to retain pertinent resources and insight that will assist me as an advocate and consultant.  I would definitely recommend attending such events so that we can all play a role to improve the educational experiences of disabled students, and the disabled population as a whole.  I aim to research similar workshops and sessions in the future so that I can expand my knowledge and understanding further.  This was a great opportunity that I was fortunate to have.

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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