Why You Should Support this Legislation

Why You Should Support this Legislation
By Carla Hayes and Al Pietrolungo

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, H.R. 4040, has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of its original sponsors is Representative Matt Cartwright from Pennsylvania. Other Pennsylvania sponsors now include Michael Doyle and Tim Murphy; the total number of sponsors is only twenty. The Education and Employment Committee is offering this article to ask you to do more to help get this legislation moving toward passage in the House of Representatives.

 

Before offering our thoughts about why you should support this bill, we want to thank those of you who supported the call-in week organized by PCB. This effort was very much appreciated, but before the call-in week, we had three sponsors from Pennsylvania. After call-in week, we still have just three supporters. Therefore, you understand why we are asking for you to do more.

We believe H.R. 4040 will improve the delivery of special education and related services to all students who are blind or visually impaired, as well as students who are deaf or hard of hearing. After you finish reading this article, please pick up the telephone and call 202-224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative. When you are connected to his or her office, explain that you are calling to support H.R. 4040. We especially need help from those of you represented by Congressman Glenn Thompson, because he sits on the committee that will be voting on whether to send this bill to the floor of the House for a vote. Read on and do your best to get this legislation moving!

 

To understand why the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, H.R. 4040, should be passed, some background information is necessary. Introduced on February 12 of this year by Representatives Matt Cartwright, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Steve Stockman, a Republican from Texas, H.R. 4040 is named after Alice Cogswell, the first deaf girl to be educated at a school for the deaf in the U.S., and Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller’s famous teacher. In 1975, Public Law 94-142, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), became the law of the land. The effect of Public Law 94-142 was that thousands of blind and visually impaired students, who would have been educated in schools for the blind in the past, were mainstreamed into public, private, and parochial schools. Public Law 94-142 has indeed revolutionized education for all children and youth with disabilities.


However, without key improvements, our national special education system cannot fully keep IDEA’s promise of a truly appropriate education for students who are blind or visually impaired.

 

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, if passed, will improve the delivery of appropriate special education and related services to all students who are blind or visually impaired and deaf or hard of hearing, including students who may have additional disabilities. Once enacted, H.R. 4040 will ensure that properly designed and individually tailored educational services are provided, meeting the unique learning needs of students who are blind or visually impaired, and that the
educators who serve them are prepared and supported to do their jobs well, based on
evidence-driven best practice. This landmark legislation will support the Expanded Core Curriculum and empower America’s students with visual impairments and other special needs by ensuring that they have the necessary skills which will prepare them for life in the 21st century. Specifically, one of the key provisions of the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act is that it will: “clarify that proper evaluation of students who are blind or visually impaired includes evaluation for students’ needs for instruction in communication and productivity (including braille instruction and assistive technology proficiency inclusive of low-vision devices where appropriate); self-sufficiency and interaction (including orientation and mobility, self-determination, sensory efficiency, socialization, recreation and fitness, and independent living skills); and age-appropriate career education.” A second key objective of H.R. 4040 is to: “assist parents and educators of students who are blind or visually impaired through regular and up-to-date written policy guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.”

 

Another notable goal of this legislation is to “establish a national collaborative organizational resource, the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Vision Loss and Educational Excellence, to proliferate evidence-based practices in the education of students who are blind or visually impaired, to keep special educators current with the latest instructional methods, and to supplement state and local educational agency provision of the instruction and services constituting the Expanded Core Curriculum.”

 

H.R. 4040, if enacted, will significantly improve education in America for students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf-blind and those with other special needs.

 

On a personal note, I, Carla, have experienced the issue of special education provisions from both sides of the desk: as a student and as a teacher. I still have fond memories of the fall of 1975 when I was the first totally blind student to be mainstreamed into Peters Township High School; I was the only totally
blind student attending Peters Township High School at that time and the first totally blind student to graduate from Peters in 1978. My vision teacher from the Intermediate Unit could only meet with me once a week for 45 minutes because she had to provide service for students in six different school districts.

 

Fortunately, we have come a long way from those early days of mainstreaming. Most vision teachers meet with their students several times a week, many schools have resource rooms for special needs students which can provide additional support, and some students with special needs have their own personal aides. However, our educational system still has a long way to go in order to meet the needs of students who are blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind. I have seen several situations where adequate braille instruction was not given to students who could have greatly benefited from it; students were instead encouraged to use audio books and talking computers which effectively rendered them functionally illiterate. Several studies have indicated a higher employment rate among totally blind adults who are skilled in the use of braille over their non braille-reading counterparts. I have met students who rely on others to take notes for them in class instead of learning to take notes for themselves. How is this preparing them for future employment?  Sometimes, adequate orientation and mobility instruction is not provided and students are walked to their classes by other students or their personal aides rather than being taught to move around the campus independently. This is certainly not preparing them for the real world where they will have to independently take care of their own personal needs.

It is important for each and every one of us to educate ourselves about H.R. 4040, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act.
Then, we must contact our representatives and urge them to pass this essential legislation. Education is empowerment. Let’s empower this and future generations of students who are blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind, by doing our part to make sure that H.R. 4040, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act becomes the law of the land in our great nation.

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