“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something, and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
– Helen Keller
Among the hundreds of hats worn by parents of students with visual impairment, the “advocate” cap can certainly seem like an overwhelming one. However, advocacy may be less overwhelming when you realize that speaking up and making a difference is something parents do naturally. Advocating at the state and national level is just an extension of the good work you’re doing every day, and — as Helen described — even one person’s actions are worthy and worthwhile.
The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) has launched a national campaign to improve our nation’s special education system so that the needs of students with visual impairments are better supported. Our proposed amendments are contained in the Anne Sullivan Macy Act, and we are currently seeking senators and representatives to express their support by becoming sponsors to this important bill. Over 40 organizations are joining with AFB in supporting this act.
What Will the Macy Act Do?
The Act has several key components:
1) Improve “Child Count.” Child Count is a requirement in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that states collect and report data on the number of students identified in various disability categories. If a state includes students in the category of “visual impairment” (and all states do), then they have to report the number of students in that category. However, many students who qualify as having a visual impairment also qualify in other disability categories, such as speech-language impairment, orthopedic impairment, and/or multiple disabilities.
Based on current Child Count regulations in IDEA, many states under-count students with visual impairments because they do not count students who also qualify in other categories. A student who is identified in the “multiple disabilities” category could not be counted in the “visual impairment” category. The Macy Act corrects this by requiring states to submit a total count of students with visual impairments, regardless of whether or not they qualify in other categories. Accurate counting of students will lead to better provision of services and resources.
2) Improve the “special factors” reporting requirements for states. States need to describe their services and evaluations of students with visual impairment in greater detail, including how they ensure that students are evaluated for appropriate learning media (braille, large print, or otherwise) and other areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum. With the implementation of the Macy Act, states would also be required to describe how they ensure adequate service provision.
3) Increase research into best practices for teaching and evaluating students with visual impairments. The Macy Act puts in place and sets aside funding for the Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disabilities and Education Excellence, not a physical building but a collaborative consortium of nonprofits, higher education institutions and other agencies (including special schools) to provide technical support, research assistance, and professional development. We know that such a center is essential for developing and disseminating the educational best practices for our students.
How Can You Help?
Returning to Helen Keller’s declaration, “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something,” we are asking parents, teachers, and other advocates to take just a few minutes on June 27th (Helen Keller’s birthday) to participate in our National Call-In Day for the Macy Act.
We’ve provided call-in instructions as well as lots of other ideas about how to help spread the word. You can call your senators and representatives using our easy, toll-free numbers, which will ask for your zip code and then connect you with the correct office:
- U.S. House of Representatives: 1-855-882-MACY (6229)
- U.S. Senate: 1-877-959-MACY (6229)
and read about our suggestions for tweeting your congress member with the hashtag #MacyAct. Additionally, take a moment to view this short, informative video about the Macy Act, and share it with your social media friends. Help us bring this important Act to the attention of congress!
If you have questions about the Macy Act or want to know about how you or your organization can get involved in this and other advocacy efforts, please email Mark Richert, AFB’s Director of Public Policy.