American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Special Issue: The Individualized Education Plan (IEP)       LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

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The Individualized Education Plan: Giving Parents and Students a Voice

by Deborah Kent Stein

Deborah Kent SteinI began my formal education with two years at a preschool, where I was the first blind child the program had ever enrolled. From kindergarten through seventh grade I attended a resource room for blind students; it was known as a Braille class. I learned Braille, touch typing, and arithmetic (using a long-forgotten device called a Taylor slate).

When I transferred to my neighborhood school in eighth grade, I studied the same subjects as my sighted classmates. The New Jersey Commission for the Blind provided many of my books in Braille or on flexible discs. Friends, paid readers, and my inexhaustible mother read the rest of my books to me, as well as the printed handouts that flooded my days and the books and articles I needed for research projects. I carried my portable typewriter from class to class and typed out my assignments so the teachers could read them. Through all those years of schooling, I never had an IEP.

In the Braille class my teacher mapped out my lessons, month by month and year by year. When I became fully mainstreamed I studied the same subjects as my sighted classmates. Materials weren't always accessible, but it was up to me to make do. If anyone had proposed that my parents and I meet with my teachers once a year to review an Individualized Education Plan, we would have been nonplused.

I was lucky to grow up in New Jersey, a state with strong programs to support blind students. For the most part my experience was a happy one. However, countless blind students across the country were far less fortunate. Most were excluded from the public schools. Usually a residential school for the blind was their only option. Children as young as five or even four were sent far from home, seeing their families only a few times a year. Those who did attend neighborhood schools had few resources. Braille instruction was limited or nonexistent, and few textbooks were transcribed or recorded. Blind students were routinely excluded from science labs, physical education classes, extracurricular activities, and field trips. Many blind children with additional disabilities were barred from attending school altogether.

If they felt that their blind child was receiving an inadequate education, parents had little recourse. No federal laws protected students with disabilities. The school was the ultimate authority.

In 1975 the United States Congress passed a revolutionary piece of legislation, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (PL 89-142). The act was later revised to become the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). A basic premise of IDEA is the right of every child with a disability to receive a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive setting possible. Furthermore, each student with a qualifying disability is entitled to an Individualized Education Plan, or IEP. The IEP enumerates the child's needs and goals. The child's placement is determined by the needs and goals outlined in the IEP document.

Lawmakers intended the IEP to give parents and students with disabilities a voice. Nevertheless, the process of crafting an IEP can be overwhelming for the very people it is meant to protect. Many parents come to dread the annual IEP meetings. With their child's future at stake, they sit at a table surrounded by professionals, each presenting a detailed report about some aspect of the child's learning or behavior. My child is so much more than these reports full of jargon, parents want to protest. How will these goals and objectives ensure that my child will be able to live the life he wants?

This special issue of Future Reflections focuses upon the IEP. Carlton Anne Cook Walker offers a detailed explanation of the IEP document, section by section. Merry-Noel Chamberlain suggests a series of IEP goals pertaining to orientation and mobility. Parents recount their experiences with IEP meetings, and attorney Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum discusses what parents can expect when they seek legal counsel. Most of the authors who contributed to this issue stress the importance of taking an advocate to the IEP meeting, someone familiar with blindness who has high expectations for blind children.

Clearly, we cannot answer all of your questions about the IEP in this special issue, but we hope that this collection of articles will help to demystify the process and open the way to new possibilities. If you need support at your child's next IEP meeting, remember that your state's NFB affiliate can be an invaluable resource.

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