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Classroom teachers may therefore have limited experience with these students and even the special education team may not be as fully prepared as possible to meet the needs of these students.
Miranda and Josh, two students with low vision, are too young to advocate for themselves. Miranda is a nine-year-old third grader; she had had enough school experience that she can begin advocating for herself. According to the anecdotal evidence provided by Beard et al., Miranda is a child of average intelligence for whom accommodations have been made thus far in her school career. One can assume that her progress has kept pace with that of her peers and she is beginning to understand her own learning style and what she needs to continue to be successful.
Josh is only five and thus just beginning to learn what school is all about and how he can be successful. The special education team is being proactive in addressing Josh's needs in anticipation of the greater vision and hearing losses his doctors have cautioned everyone to expect. Josh is fortunate to have a grandmother and the special education team advocate for him when he cannot yet do so for himself.
Another case study in Beard et al. is that of Beth, a young teenager who experienced vision loss after an accident. Recommendations for assistive technology (AT) for Beth are somewhat hampered by the emotional components of her sudden vision loss. Beth will be able to be a better advocate for learning once she deals with some of the emotional issues surrounding the accident.
In Chapter 9, Beard et al. describe Mary, a high school student who started receiving services as a second grader because of a learning disability related to reading. An accident as a teenager left Mary with partial paralysis and some fine and gross motor impairments. With the support of the special education team and her parents, Mary is making decisions about her high school education while also preparing for college and a career and independent living after graduation. Mary eagerly participated in this transition planning; she needs "intensive planning and specific instruction in how to use AT to support transition and successful living in the adult world" (Beard et al.). It is fortunate that Mary is both willing and able to learn to advocate for herself. In this way, Mary and students like her have an advantage over students with cognitive impairments that may make it difficult or even impossible for them to advocate for themselves. Kleinert, Harrison, Fisher & Kleinert (2010) assert that even students with developmental and cognitive impairments can learn self-determination, although those with communications impairments can have a difficult time. Miranda, Josh, and Mary can communicate (Josh's hearing loss was post-lingual) and it is easier for them to make their needs known.
Students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) will eventually leave school and go into the adult world, where they will often have to figure out for themselves how to function. Students who learn self-advocacy skills during their school years will have an advantage. They will, hopefully, have gained an understanding of their needs and become well acquainted with strategies and devices that will help them perform necessary tasks. While they are in school, they can talk with classroom teachers and special educators if they feel their needs are not being met. Together, they can look at the desired outcome and figure out what is needed to accomplish the goal.
In the workplace, an individual whose needs are not being met should go to the company's department of human resources (HR). HR professionals should be knowledgeable about laws and accommodations; if a case is outside their area of expertise, they should at least know where to find the necessary information. Away from the workplace, an individual could go to the public library where a reference librarian could direct one to state and local agencies and advocacy groups for persons with disabilities. The Internet has made it much easier for people to get the information they need.
Beard, L.A., Carpenter, L.B., & Johnston, L. (2011). Assistive technology: Access for all students. 2e Kindle edition. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill.
Kleinert, J.O., Harrison, E.M., Fisher, T.L., & Kleinert, H.L. (2010). "I can" and "I
did" -- Self-advocacy for young students with developmental disabilities.
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