Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act Legislative Imperative

The Issue

Since 1975, Public Law 94-142, now the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), has revolutionized educational opportunity 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 is intended to do just that, to improve the delivery of appropriate special education and related services to all students who are blind or visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing, or deaf-blind, including students who may have additional disabilities. Once enacted, the legislation will ensure that properly designed and individually tailored services are in fact 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.
 

Strategy

During the next two years, the U.S. Congress may review and amend IDEA as part of its periodic reauthorization of the law. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act can be passed by Congress at any time in advance of IDEA reauthorization, or it can be incorporated, in whole or in part, into reauthorization itself.
 

Legislative Proposal

ACB encourages members of the House of Representatives to sign a “Dear Colleague” letter that Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) is actively circulating to gain support in advance of the bill’s imminent reintroduction.
 
This legislation will:

  • Ensure that every student with vision loss is properly identified regardless of formal disability category or classification so that all students who are blind or visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities, are counted and properly served.
  • Expand knowledge about the scope and quality of special education and related services provided to students who are blind or visually impaired through refined data collection that tracks all students with vision loss, regardless of formal disability category or classification.
  • Expect states to conduct strategic planning, and commit such planning to writing, to guarantee that all students who are blind or visually impaired within each state receive all specialized instruction and services needed by students with vision loss provided by properly trained personnel.
  • 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. Such instruction and services constitute the Expanded Core Curriculum, the body of services which teachers of students with visual impairments and related professions are expertly trained to provide.
  • Ramp up U.S. Department of Education responsibilities to monitor and report on states’ compliance with their obligations with respect to instruction and services specifically provided to students who are blind or visually impaired.
  • 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.
  • 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.

 

What Will it Cost?

Currently every year, the federal government spends nearly $12 billion to help states offer special education to students with disabilities. While this is a significant investment, it represents only about 16% of the total national cost of special education today. The Cogswell/Macy Act does not add to these costs but rather puts safeguards in place to ensure that funds spent on students with sensory disabilities are maximized and used for the most effective services. Without the Cogswell/Macy Act, both federal and state dollars can be misdirected to services that are ineffective because they do not meet the unique educational needs of students with sensory disabilities. In addition, the Cogswell/Macy Act establishes a national resource center, not unlike such resources currently serving the deaf and deaf-blind communities, to strengthen the capacity of the vision loss community to provide effective special education and related services. This center would be supported through a federal investment of $22 million per year, a cost that represents about 0.02% of all federal special education spending.
 
For further information, contact Eric Bridges, Director of External Relations and Policy, American Council of the Blind, (202) 467-5081, ebridges@acb.org.