A Blind Parent’s Essential Guide to Effective Communication from Public and Private Schools

There are laws that protect your right to effective communication so that, if needed, you are best prepared to advocate for equal access. This guide will provide you with a summary of your protections and links to additional resources.

“Like all parents, blind parents have the right to participate in their children’s education. In twenty-first century America, parents have an unprecedented level of access to information about their children’s schools and academic performance, but blind parents are denied this access when the technology that public school systems use is inaccessible to them.”

—Mark Riccobono, 2015

The Problem

Too many blind parents encounter inaccessible technology and communication through their child’s school and have been prevented from fully and equally participating in their child’s education, including helping their child with homework, monitoring their grades, checking the school’s lunch and events calendars, and more.

Definition of Effective Communication

The US Department of Justice has defined effective communication to mean that “whatever is written or spoken must be as clear and understandable to people with disabilities as it is for people who do not have disabilities.”1

Understanding Your Rights

Am I entitled to effective communication from my child’s school?

Yes. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities and guarantee your right to communication in formats that you can use.

Specifically, Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities by all state and local governments.2 This includes all programs, activities, and services of public school districts. Per Title II guidance, public entities must “take appropriate steps to ensure that communications with applicants, participants, members of the public, and companions with disabilities are as effective as communications with others.”3 Furthermore, public schools must give primary consideration to your preferred method of communication, whether it is accessible electronic communication, large print, Braille, or something else.4

Title III of the ADA covers places of public accommodation: doctor’s offices, grocery stores, art museums, and private schools, among other spaces, with the important caveat that religious entities, including religious schools, are exempt from the ADA.5 These covered places of public accommodation cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities by communicating in a format that is not usable by you.6 Private schools are encouraged to consult with individuals with disabilities regarding what method of communication is needed.7

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities by entities that receive federal funding.8 All public school systems receive federal funding, and many private schools, including religious schools, receive federal funding and are thus required to provide equal access to programs, services, and benefits.

Am I required to exhaust the IDEA administrative hearing process before pursuing effective communication under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act?

Blind parents who request auxiliary aids and effective communication for themselves are not required to exhaust the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA’s) administrative hearing process before filing a discrimination complaint in federal or state court.9 For guidance regarding a student’s rights to effective communication under IDEA and other federal laws, please reference the Departments of Education and Justice’s Dear Colleague Letter and Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools (FAQs).

What is included in effective communication?

Effective communication requirements extend beyond telephone calls and emails to include accessible websites, newsletters, calendars, report cards, homework programs, and more. The ADA requires that auxiliary aids and services, sometimes called accommodations, be provided as a way to ensure equal access for individuals with disabilities.10 This can include Braille, large print, screen reader-compatible information, and other methods of accessing information.

Advocating for Effective Communication

If your child’s school refuses or fails to provide you with effective communication, even after you request it, there are a variety of ways you can advocate.

Connecting with the National Federation of the Blind

We encourage you to keep the NFB apprised of technology used by your child’s school by regularly completing NFB’s Education Technology Survey. The information gathered will help to steer our advocacy and legal work: Education Technology Survey.

We further encourage you to become involved with your local NFB affiliate and chapter and the NFB Blind Parents Group.11 The NFB has built a network of members, support, and expertise in all fifty states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico; in many cases a member may have experienced a similar barrier to yours and can share suggestions on how best to advocate. Reviewing the NFB’s lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools can be helpful to understanding the types of barriers blind parents of school-aged children experience and the NFB’s commitment to equal access.12

Additional Resources

For more information, please contact Valerie Yingling, Legal Program Coordinator, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2440.

  1. https://www.ada.gov/pcatoolkit/chap3toolkit.htm
  2. 42 U.S.C. § 12132
  3. 28 CFR 35.160(a)(1)
  4. 8 C.F.R.§35.160(b)(2)
  5. 42 U.S.C. § 12181 and 42 U.S.C. § 12187
  6. 28 C.F.R § 36.303(c)(1)
  7. 28 C.F.R § 36.303(c)(1)(ii)
  8. 45 C.F.R. § 84.4(b)(ii)
  9. https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/dcl-faqs-effective-communication-201411.pdf
  10. 28 C.F.R. § 35.160(b)(1)
  11. https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/join-us and https://www.nfb.org/our-community/blind-parents
  12. https://www.nfb.org/programs-services/legal-program/rulings-filings-and-letters#education