Reps. Cartwright, McKinley Champion Comprehensive Bipartisan Legislation to Transform Special Education for Students with Sensory Disabilities
WASHINGTON – On Sept. 16, 2015, U.S. Congressmen Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) introduced the bipartisan Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (H.R. 3535), named for two pioneers in the education of deaf and blind students. This landmark legislation would dramatically improve educational results for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind.
In 1975, Congress enacted America’s federal special education law known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Cogswell-Macy Act would amend and modernize IDEA to address the largely unmet unique needs of students with sensory disabilities. The bill would: ensure that students with vision and/or hearing disabilities are properly identified, evaluated and served, especially when they may have additional disabilities; guarantee that students with sensory disabilities are provided with the full array of special education and related services they must have to truly receive a free and appropriate public education; promote and support teachers and associated professionals who are critical to the delivery of such services; and hold all levels of our public education system accountable for these expectations.
“Upwards of 350,000 students are deaf or hard of hearing, and an estimated 100,000 have blindness or vision loss. Yet less than one-third of those students are reported as having those needs under IDEA. That is completely unacceptable,” Rep. Cartwright said. “This legislation would ensure that students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind receive an equal and appropriate education and have access to vital services. I look forward to working with my colleagues to guarantee that all children can succeed and achieve their potential.”
“Americans have made great strides since 1975 toward improving the lives of children dealing with hearing and sight disabilities, but there is still more work to be done,” stated Rep. McKinley. “We need to ensure the nearly half a million kids with these disabilities have the same opportunity as other children to learn and develop skills. This is a common-sense step to ensure we are helping these children.”
The American Foundation for the Blind and Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf have endorsed the Cogswell-Macy Act, along with more than 100 other leading national, regional and community-based organizations.
“The introduction of this bill represents a momentous step toward the transformation of this country’s special-education system in a manner that will truly allow for students who are blind or visually impaired to succeed in a 21st century classroom,” said Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB).
“The Cogswell-Macy Act is the most significant national proposal to improve education for students who are deaf-blind we’ve seen in decades,” said Mussie Gebre, president of the national consumer advocacy group, DeafBlind Citizens in Action (DBCA). “When America’s deaf-blind children and youth have their unique communications and learning needs fully met, are provided with essential supports such as intervener services, and are empowered by our national education system to rise to their full potential, well then, just you look out because they’re on their way to achieve great things. Just watch us and see for yourself!”
“Our national special-education law has been a success at getting kids with disabilities into their neighborhood schools, but what we haven’t done yet is to make sure that students with vision loss get the education they deserve once they get in the schoolhouse door,” said Mark Richert, director of public policy for the American Foundation for the Blind. “We’ve waited 40 years, and we’re not waiting another 40 to give kids who are blind or visually impaired an education that is worthy of their tremendous potential. That’s why the Cogswell-Macy Act is imperative.”
“We expect that the passage of the Cogswell-Macy Act will rectify years of misapplication of IDEA for deaf and hard-of-hearing children everywhere,” said James E. Tucker, superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf and president of the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf. “Deaf and hard-of-hearing children continue to experience language and academic delays because their educational environments are not optimal or even conducive to their learning. Every student’s Individualized Education Program needs to be student-driven and focused on the child’s language, cognitive and social development.”
NAD president Chris Wagner stated, “Every deaf or hard-of-hearing child deserves access to a quality education, and this act will be an important step toward reminding states of their accountability regarding deaf, hard of hearing, blind, deaf-blind, and visually impaired children’s needs.”