“Acceptance & Achievement: Because of my Dyslexia – Not In Spite of It”

Guest Blog post by Caida Mendelsohn

Caida Mendelsohn

Caida Mendelsohn

In early elementary school, I was aware that I was different from my classmates. I would get pulled out of class to work with and reading specialist. I took longer to finish worksheets in math class. I would stumble over words and make more mistakes than my classmates when reading out loud.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My parents made the choice to move me to a local school that specialized in dyslexic remediation. This school would help build skills that I could use to be successful, even with dyslexia. The teachers there understood dyslexia and tailored their lessons to meet our needs.

I was no longer self-conscious when reading out loud and I no longer worried about how long it took me to finish a worksheet. All of the other kids in my class were dyslexic. For the first time, I didn’t feel different or weird.

When I went back to a general education classroom, I was given basic accommodations for my dyslexic and ADHD. In my 6th grade earth science class, I began to feel different from the rest of my classmates again.

Every night for homework, we had to read and take notes from our texted book. In reality, the reading was probably only 10 pages but it felt like 100 pages. It took me so long to do my homework every night. I would get frustrated and cry over my text book, then cry to my mom, and then cry over my textbook some more.

None of my friends in class seemed to have the same problems doing the reading and taking notes. Everyone else had organized notes with highlighter and bullet points just like the teacher taught us to do. My notes were messy and almost incoherent.

Then one night, while doing earth science homework, I had an aha-moment. I stopped taking notes on lined paper and started taking notes on printer paper. I started organizing my notes graphically and using colored pencils. When I began taking notes like this, homework became less hard and I started retaining and understanding more of what I was reading.

I realized that I think and learn differently than my peers because of my dyslexia. So why I was trying to study and learn in the same way they were? I needed to use my creativity and try a different ways of studying and figure out how best I learn.

As a junior in college, I still take notes this way.  Being able to think differently, be creative, and adapt is what has made me a successful student. And the challenges I’ve faced have helped me become the advocate I am today.

Having ADHD and a learning disability like dyslexia has been a challenge in some ways, and a great teacher in other ways. I have learned to accept myself and the way I learn. I have learned to speak up for what I need. And I have learned the importance of encouraging others to do the same.

On the nights I cried over my earth science textbook, I never imagined I’d be where I am now. I never imagined I’d be living in Washington, DC, or that I’d have two amazing internship opportunities—first with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and now with the U.S. Department of Education.

But anything is possible.

My experiences have inspired within me a desire to ensure equity in education for all students, including students with disabilities. I want to ensure they, too, have access to the same opportunities as other students. Because one thing I’ve learned is that what you are given in life – even dyslexia or ADHD—does not determine who you are. But what you do with that determines everything.

Caida Mendelsohn is a junior at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, and is originally from Decatur Georgia. At Smith, Caida is majoring in Government and minoring in Education and Child Studies. Additionally, Caida is working towards the teaching certificate for elementary education. It was Caida’s personal struggle with her learning disability that first sparked her interest in education and disability rights and advocacy.

“From Hidden Potential to Harvard”

Guest Blog post by Laura A. Schifter

Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

Laura A. Schifter and daughter Ellie

At age seven, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Right after receiving my diagnosis, my parents were told they should not expect much from me and that I would not be successful academically. This assumption came, not from knowing me, not from observing my ability to think, but rather from the simple fact that I had dyslexia, meaning I struggled to read words on a page.

Today, I have a doctorate and teach at Harvard. And many other students with dyslexia find success, too. So why are these assumptions so widespread and expectations so low?

Reading is often seen as the most critical foundational skill in education. Reading is not simply required in English classes, but in all academic classes. This is why it is easy to assume that if a child struggles with reading, they cannot be successful in school. Fortunately for me, my parents did not accept the professional’s assumption as fact.

Growing up, my parents ensured I got the access and support I needed to be successful. My mother allowed me to learn by going to museums or watching videos. I got access to audio books from Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic, and my sister even recorded homemade audio books for me.

However, sometimes these accommodations could not provide the just-in-time support I needed. That’s when I would piece together information from my peers and try to get by. At best, I was able to successfully fake that I had completed the reading. At worst, I would be exposed as not knowing an answer and humiliated.

Even though I had some teachers who looked at me and only saw my barrier with reading, I also encountered many teachers who challenged assumptions and saw my potential. I had an English teacher who met with me before class to discuss the readings; a chemistry teacher who provided additional scaffolding with writing conclusions; and a history teacher who encouraged me to take the Advanced Placement (AP) exam even after I was rejected from the AP class because of concerns that the reading would be too challenging for me.  The exceptional teachers I encountered never lowered expectations for my success, but rather found ways to support me in meeting the expectations.

My experiences, with supportive parents and teachers, are common to many successful students with learning and attention issues and even students with disabilities more broadly. However, given the large achievement gaps for students with learning disabilities, these positive and supportive experiences are not common enough.

In schooling, we place a high value on reading because reading is an effective way to represent content. But it does not need to be the only way. In fact, advances in technology can make representing information in multiple ways easy.

For instance, in my graduate work, I learned about the screen reader embedded in my computer. This tool allows me to have immediate read-aloud support for any accessible digital text. I now use it all the time from reading journal articles to reading emails to proofreading my own work. There are also many other types of technology and accommodations that can make a difference for students with learning disabilities.

In order to fully leverage technology as a tool to help struggling learners, teachers need to not only learn how to use the technology, but also commit to making their lessons accessible to all learners. This commitment can only be successful if we shift our thinking. We must think not about the limitations of the child, but about the limitations in the curriculum.

This shift will change our assumptions and enable us to see past the child’s barrier to reveal the child’s potential. It will help so many more students like me succeed.

Laura A. Schifter, Ed.D., is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, coauthor of How Did You Get Here: Students with Disabilities and Their Journeys to Harvard, and a member of the National Center for Learning Disabilities’ Professional Advisory Board.

Previously, Schifter served in Washington, D.C., as a senior education and disability advisor for Rep. George Miller (D-CA) on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Schifter earned an Ed.D. in education policy, leadership and instructional practice and an Ed.M. in mind, brain and education from Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has a B.A. in American studies from Amherst College. Schifter was diagnosed with dyslexia when she was 7.

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Blog from OSERS’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Janet LaBreck.

In recognition of National Disability Employment Month, I would like to share some exciting new opportunities for the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, which is authorized by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). As you know, WIOA was signed into law by President Obama on July 22, 2014 and is designed to strengthen and improve our nation’s public workforce system and help Americans with significant barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, obtain high quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 under Title IV of WIOA had a profound impact on individuals with disabilities, especially those with significant disabilities and students and youth with disabilities transitioning from education to employment. These provisions strengthen opportunities for individuals with disabilities to acquire the skills and supports necessary to maximize their potential and enter competitive integrated employment. The final implementing regulations for the VR program adhere to three key goals:

  1. Align the VR program with the workforce development system;
  2. Strengthen VR’s focus on competitive integrated employment; and
  3. Expand VR services to students and youth with disabilities.

While these are many new opportunities and innovations under WIOA, I would like to share just a few that I believe will have a positive impact on employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities:

Strengthened emphasis on competitive integrated employment (CIE):


  1. The definition of “competitive integrated employment” in the implementing regulations has three major components related to competitive earnings, integrated locations, and opportunities for advancement.

Emphasis on transition services, including pre-employment transition services:


  1. WIOA expands the population of students with disabilities who may receive services and the kinds of services that the VR agencies may provide to youth and students with disabilities who are transitioning from school to postsecondary education and employment.
  2. WIOA emphasizes the provision of services to students and youth with disabilities to ensure they have opportunities to receive the training and other services necessary to achieve competitive integrated employment.
  3. WIOA increases opportunities to practice and improve workplace skills, such as through internships and other work-based learning opportunities.

Emphasis on employer engagement:


  1. RSA has begun the process of working with employers through a series of Round Table discussions that were held in FY 2016. These focused on the following sectors:
    • Federal contracting,
    • healthcare,
    • banking, and
    • information technology sectors.
  2. RSA will continue to work with state agencies to increase employer engagement.
  3. RSA encourages State VR agencies to meet employer needs by focusing on working with human resource firms and organizations that focus on diversity and talent acquisition.

Collaborative opportunities to work with partners across the workforce development system:


  1. WIOA promotes program alignment at the Federal, State, local, and regional levels; establishes common performance measures across core programs; encourages common data systems across core programs; builds on proven practices such as sector strategies, career pathways, regional economic approaches, work-based training; strengthens alignment between adult education, postsecondary education, and employers; strengthens transition services and supports for students and youth with disabilities; and emphasizes the achievement of competitive integrated employment by individuals with disabilities.
  2. Federal Partners—RSA is working with various partners at the Federal level, including the other WIOA core partners (Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services), and other Federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. State agencies are collaborating and partnering with a variety of organizations to bring about improvements, including state and local workforce development partners, disability specific training and education programs (e.g. Gallaudet University, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, and the Florida State University’s Visual Disabilities Program, research and training programs (e.g. the National Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University, innovative work based learning programs (e.g. Café Reconcile, Student Transition to Employment Project), and many other partners.

RSA’s new focus on technical assistance and demonstration projects:


  1. To provide leadership and resources to grantees and stakeholders, RSA created a series of training and technical assistance centers (TACs) and demonstration projects to assist state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and their partners in providing VR and other services to individuals with disabilities.
  2. Focus on Career Pathways—In FY 2015, RSA awarded a grant to focus on Career Pathways for Individuals with Disabilities (CPID) model demonstration program in Georgia, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Virginia. The purpose of the program is to demonstrate replicable promising practices in the use of career pathways to enable VR-eligible individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, to acquire marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials and to secure competitive integrated employment in high-demand, high-quality occupations. Program activities are being designed and implemented in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, American Job Centers, workforce training providers, social and human service organizations, employers, and other Federal career pathways initiatives.
  3. Identifying new models and looking forward—Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP)—The purpose of the APCP is to improve outcomes for individuals with disabilities by increasing access to information and communication technologies (ICT) through automatic personalization of needed assistive technology (AT). Under the APCP, an information technology (IT) infrastructure would be created to allow users of ICT to store preferences in the cloud or other technology, which then would allow supported Internet–capable devices they are using to automatically run their preferred AT solutions. This IT infrastructure will ultimately provide better educational opportunities, ease transitions between school and the workforce, and improve productivity in the workplace.

I am confident that these innovations and opportunities will result in improved employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities. I look forward to seeing what other innovations are yet to come, and invite you to look ahead with me.

Madison Essig and Susie Nevin — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blogs by Madison Essig and Susie Nevin

Madison Essig

Madison Essig

Madison Essig

I was born with Down syndrome. I began receiving early intervention services when I was eight months old. I have low muscle tone, so occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) services were a necessity. OT helped me to learn how to hold a spoon so that I could feed myself and later hold a pencil to write. PT helped me to develop the strength to crawl and sit in a chair and walk. My speech therapist helped me to develop my oral motor skills to prepare me to speak. At the same time, knowing that my speech would be delayed, she taught me and my mother sign language to help me communicate. My mother says that this was essential to my development, as I was capable of so much more than my not talking would indicate. She believes that the first years of a child’s development are critical, so she made sure I accessed every possible early intervention service I was able to. My therapists gave us exercises to do at home, which we did faithfully.

After graduating from early intervention at two years old, I went to a preschool program where I received special education services. My backpack was bigger than I was. My teacher, Ms. Trudy, knew I used sign language, so she and the other teachers supported me by using it at school. I was able to sign colors and animals and please and thank-you and so much more. I was able to start reading in preschool using signs and developed the language basis I needed to succeed later. Ms. Trudy pushed me to do a lot for myself so I could become independent in navigating the school and ready for kindergarten. I continued to receive occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT) and speech therapy services in preschool. My therapists helped me work on things directly related to my school experience, like writing and putting on my coat and learning to pronounce words clearly so that I was understood.

My early intervention services and special education preschool services provided the foundation that enabled me to be fully included in regular education classes throughout elementary school, middle school and high school. I graduated from Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., with a full diploma and a 3.7 GPA. I am now a student at George Mason University in the MasonLife Program and want to pursue a career advocating for people with disabilities. No one knows what a young child will be able to achieve, so they must have every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Madison Essig

Susie Nevin

Susie Nevin

Susie Nevin

Happy Birthday, Part C!  I’m so glad you were born!  In 1986, as this law was being enacted, I was in the 6th grade, completely unaware of how the Part C early intervention program would impact my life. Early intervention became my life’s work, and for that I am humbled, proud and grateful.

I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and received my undergraduate degree in Child Development and Family Studies. I was introduced to early intervention by a group of dedicated faculty members whom I consider to be pioneers in this field.  I remained at UIUC and earned my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education with an emphasis on Infant Education in 1997. I never looked back.

Since then, I have met thousands of families—wonderful caregivers and beautiful infants and toddlers—in my role as a Developmental Therapist. I have listened to their unique stories, smiled proudly as they celebrated victories, and held their hands as they endured setbacks and faced fears. Not a day has passed that I haven’t been grateful for the perspective I gained from every family and every child.

That perspective served me well in 2002, when I gave birth to twin girls, two months premature. Suddenly, I was no longer the helpful professional, but a frightened parent. My family received amazing care as my daughter Lily navigated her way through speech therapy and occupational therapy services. I was so grateful for that care, and I owe much of her success to her experiences in early intervention.

This 30th anniversary of Part C is truly a celebratory occasion!

Susan A. Nevin

Madison Essig
Posted by
Student at George Mason University in the MasonLife Program
Susie Nevin
Posted by
M.Ed., Developmental Therapist, parent

Pettrice Lewis and Brittney Dixon — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blogs by Pettrice Lewis and Brittney Dixon 

Pettrice Lewis

Neo Lewis

Neo Lewis

Eight years ago, our tiny bundle of joy Neo Lewis, arrived at 26.5 gestational weeks. He was immediately diagnosed with significant hearing loss, and within months, eye cancer which claimed most of his vision. Before leaving the hospital from his extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, we were told that we would be contacted by someone within the District of Columbia’s early intervention team, but had not yet grasped what that meant. We only knew that we were suddenly thrust into a new world, as a family with a child with special developmental needs, and ongoing health issues.

Within a few weeks, we received a phone call from our D.C. early intervention specialist. She visited our home, patiently outlined the benefits of early intervening strategies, explained services that were available for our son, and connected us to the appropriate service providers. In the days to come, we were assigned therapists and specialists—most of whom provided services within our home. In the ensuing months, our little bundle flourished as he received needed therapies that contributed to his achieving and surpassing age-adjusted milestones. Through those early years, we felt that we were part of a team that enabled us to navigate the labyrinth of services, and connect us to a network of organizations and other families.

Now a second-grader, our son is flourishing at school and in life. He loves giving high-fives to his teachers when he correctly answers questions, and playing with friends on the playground. At home, he enjoys riding his bike, dancing to music, or curling up with a favorite book. We feel very fortunate that our son and our family were able to benefit, from engagement with early childhood intervention.

Pettrice Lewis

Brittney Dixon

Brittney Dixon

Brittney Dixon

While working for the North Carolina Infant Toddler Program I have had many opportunities to work with individuals with disabilities and their families. On a daily basis I evaluate, plan and implement assessment tools and strategies to help children achieve the best possible day to day routines and outcomes. I chose the field of early intervention because my family is a living example of the positive impacts early intervention can have on a child and their family.

My older brother, Brandon, was born at 26 weeks gestational age and weighed 2lbs 4oz. The doctors told my family he would probably never walk on his own and would have limited learning abilities. With the support of early intervention, he was able to overcome those challenges early on. Before starting school he was running around effortlessly and demonstrating many early literacy concepts. Brandon has continued to impress and surprise us year after year. He will turn 31 this October and has graduated college, gotten married and has a successful career in aviation. There is no doubt in my mind that early intervention played a vital role in my brother’s success story.

I work in early intervention to support children and families similar to my own so that each of them can have their own success story. I enjoy advocating for and helping families navigate the unfamiliar territory of early intervention and having a child with a developmental delay or disability. Birth through three is an important age for a child’s growth and development so the earlier we start helping young children and their families, the better the outcome!

Brittany Dixon

Ron Benham and Tiffany Gundler — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blogs by Ron Benham and Tiffany Gundler.

Ron Benham

Ron Benham

Ron Benham

When asked to tell a Part C story, I immediately thought it needed to be a story in which I have been an active participant, but more importantly it needed to be framed as a collective response.

I have had the experience of working with early intervention services in Massachusetts prior to P.L. 99‑457, and the journey has never been dull! While, Massachusetts had a well-articulated early intervention system prior to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) legislation, its passage and ultimate creation of a system of care without waiting lists created unique opportunities for very young children and their families.

Reflecting over time, it is humbling to acknowledge the numerous parties that have continuously moved this system forward. This includes the Office of Special Education Programs, governors, legislative supporters, public health commissioners, budget staff, provider organizations, the pediatric medical community, health plans, higher education, state Part C staff, and most importantly the voices of families. Without the combined commitment of these individuals and organizations it is highly doubtful that the current system in Massachusetts, in its scope and scale, would exist.

As we know from research and grandmotherly wisdom, it’s all about relationships. With young children and their families, and all those mentioned above, the journey of Part C has been about a collective vision of inclusion, positive developmental outcomes for young children and a commitment to full participation of families in the development of policies of how services are delivered.

I am pleased to have been a part of this evolution and salute all those whose commitment and voices have continuously moved this system forward. It has not always been easy but it reflects a system that has tried to always keep the eye on the prize, assisting families in caring for their children and allowing all to have dreams of a brighter future. If we continue to share an inclusive vision with our other Early Childhood partners and act in the best interests of families, we can continue building a comprehensive, broad based system of early education and care.

In closing, I will paraphrase a Beatles lyric and simply say it’s been fun, challenging, exhilarating, and extremely meaningful to be on “the long and winding road” with families, sharing in their lives.


Ron Benham

Tiffany Gundler

Tiffany Gundler

Tiffany Gundler

Thanks to early intervention, I have flourished in ways I never could have imagined or thought possible. I was diagnosed at 10 days old with a profound hearing loss and my parents felt lost about how they were going to raise me. Early intervention stepped in and provided them with the assistance, knowledge, and resources they needed to help me grow and succeed. Although I do not remember those days, I relive those moments through my family’s memories. The resources early intervention provided my parents gave them a map for our family, but they still had to choose which path was best for me. They chose the path less traveled, and it led to places I’m sure they never imagined for their baby.

Without early intervention, I may have not had all of the opportunities I was fortunate to have growing up. A huge part of my success comes from the aid my parents received when I was a baby. Early intervention taught my parents and my brother how to help me grow and learn. In addition to all of the support my family received, the staff also worked with me by coming to my house and helping me improve my developmental skills until the age of 3. After early intervention, I went to Clarke School in Northampton, Mass., for 10 years then transitioned to a public high school. From there I went on to college and graduated with a biomedical engineering degree. I now work for a medial orthopedic company designing customized knee replacements.

Another huge benefit that we all received from the early intervention program was the Part C early intervention also provided my family incredible access to support groups that we were able to join. The journey certainly was not an easy one but being able to relate with other parents who were going through the same challenges made things seem a little easier along the way for my parents. I just want to thank the program for not only leading me onto the best path I could have ever imagined, but for also assisting my family along the way as well. They would have never known where to start in helping me grow into the person I am today. In turn, I have been able to pay it forward and help improve the lives of others.

Thank you early intervention for the amazing support and resources you provide families like mine every single day!

Tiffany Gundler

Ron Benham
Posted by
Bureau Director at Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Part C Coordinator.
Tiffany Gundler
Posted by
Biomedical Engineer

Cecilia Lee and Debbie Miller — Early Learning Making a Difference

Guest Blog Posts by Cecilia Lee and by Debbie Miller

Cecilia Lee



Alex sang an aria in Italian recently in front of 600 people. He had a really nice introduction by the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education. A lot of people think he is a superstar. He has modeled for a toy company, done some TV work, has his own poster and appeared on the big screen in Times Square 8 times. He just turned 9. I often wonder if he would still be able to do all that he does if he didn’t have early intervention services pretty much as soon as he was born.

Alex was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth. I, like many other new parents, didn’t know what to expect. I was informed of lots of struggles and obstacles that would come our way. I felt as if my family’s life was thrown into the land of doom. Then came early intervention! Our early intervention therapists started coming over to our house. Immediately, they started telling us all the things that Alex was capable of doing; and more importantly different strategies to try so that he COULD do those things he wasn’t yet doing. They were the bright ray of sunshine that came to chase away the dark cloud that I thought was hanging over us. Each week, they came over and worked with all of us to make everything possible. They always made sure that Alex’s sister, Isabelle, was part of the session. Now at age 11, she is the queen of modifications! Many of us know that over 90% of the brain development happens before the kids turn five, so what a great life-changing opportunity this was not only for Alex but also for Isabelle.

One of the struggles we had in the beginning was language development. We live in a bilingual household and when Alex was first diagnosed, many people told us that it’d be better to stick to one language because he would be too confused and have difficulty learning how to communicate. Fortunately, our early intervention therapists told us that we should just do whatever we were doing with our daughter so we continued to communicate in two different languages. Exposure to two different languages increased Alex’s awareness of different sounds and the way the letters/characters looked. He started recognizing sight words in both English and Korean before he turned two. At age 9, he speaks, reads and writes in English and Korean. He is learning Italian because he just loves Mozart operas and Japanese because he’s so into Anime. He loves singing Mozart arias in Italian and Anime theme songs in Japanese.

As I was getting teary-eyed watching Alex sing ‘La Cidarem la Mano’ in Italian in front of such a big crowd, I couldn’t help but think how none of this would’ve been possible without early intervention.

Cecilia Lee

Debbie Miller

Debbie Miller

Debbie Miller

I had always wondered what I would do when I grew up. When I thought about my professional career, I never envisioned myself working with young children with disabilities. However at the age of 42 when the opportunity arose for me to work in this field, my passion found me. For 24 years, I have worked with children from birth through five years of age … And they have taught me so much.

I have worked in Part B special education preschool and Part C early intervention jobs separately and for 13 years simultaneously. I’ve laughed and cried with parents and had both challenging and rewarding home visits. Through it all I’ve seen progress unique to each child and family and felt an overwhelming relief that these wonderful children are receiving the educational and family support necessary to have a happy life and life-long friendships.

People who don’t teach special education always say, “It takes a special person to teach special education.” They are wrong; it is an honor and a privilege to teach young children with disabilities and their families.

Deborah Miller

10 Million Book Downloads Today Provides a 10x Model for Tomorrow

This is a cross-post from the Benetech Blog. Benetech is a grantee of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)


Many years ago I had the wild idea to start a deliberately nonprofit technology company in the heart of Silicon Valley. I knew that technology, when applied for social good, promised to usher in positive and sustainable change. Today’s 10 million download milestone is a celebration of our ability to deliver on that promise.

Ten million is more than a big number. It represents our ability to scale technology for global impact. It demonstrates what is possible when technology makes it 80x cheaper to create and 15x cheaper to deliver an accessible book. It shows our ability to empower communities in need with the tools to succeed.10 million download with Bookshare logo

Today’s milestone is worth celebrating, but like any good social entrepreneur, I’m focused on what’s next. What innovation needs to take place so the hundreds of millions of individuals who are unable to read standard print can access every published book? How can we realize our Born Accessible dream of all digital content serving blind people and sighted people equally?  What investments can we make today in order to have the greatest impact tomorrow? Finding answers to these hard questions through scalable technology solutions is what motivates me and the entire Benetech team.

Bookshare’s success provides a proven model for answering these questions. First, we must identify technology-driven solutions that will be 10x better or 10x cheaper (or both!) in delivering social impact. Next, we must engage our communities to test prototypes and to separate the good ideas from the truly great ideas. We will then take the best projects, inject the needed capital and scale them for global impact. The Bookshare model guided us to our 10 million milestone, and it’s a key model that will guide us to identify, develop and scale technology to tackle the hard questions we ask ourselves every day.

Moving forward, we will work hand-in-hand with school districts, libraries and our nonprofit partner organizations to make digital content accessible to everyone who needs it. We will work with publishers to ensure the right tools, standards and best practices are available to build accessibility into all content when it is first created. Globally, we will engage the communities we serve until every person can access every book in the way he or she needs to succeed.

I look forward to sharing more milestones on our mission to empower communities in need by creating scalable technology solutions. I hope you’ll come along with me and the Benetech team on this wild ride.

Check out the press release to learn more about this exciting milestone.

A New School Year and New Opportunities

Map of U.S.

This is a repost of a Disability.Gov Blog post by Carmen Sánchez, Education Program Specialist, Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education and Debra Jennings, Executive Co-Director, SPAN.

A new school year is a new opportunity to build the relationships that strengthen the foundations of support that are so important for our students with disabilities. As one parent engagement professional stated, “Parents and schools should reach out and open lines of communication in a time of peace before that first poor grade or behavior issue. Find out how people would like to be addressed and their preferred method of communication.”

But how does a parent start the conversation in a way that is focused on strengths just as much as need? A Positive Student Profile is a great way to introduce a child to teachers at the beginning of the school year. Here’s an example of one way to introduce the profile, which can be customized to fit your student:

Dear Mr. Rogers,

Alex and I are excited about this new school year! I am writing to share some things I believe will help make this successful year for him. You likely received Alex’s individualized education program and are thinking about how to implement the supports and accommodations listed in his IEP. But while the IEP does a good job of describing Alex’s learning and needs, it doesn’t fully describe him or who he is. I am including a profile (http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/pbp-student-profile/) that Alex prepared that tells about his interests, his strengths, and what works best for him to help him learn.

Our family has high expectations for Alex, just as we have for his sister. And we know that he requires some supports and accommodations to meet these expectations. We are always looking for information about Alex’s abilities and challenges. We have come across several resources that have really helped us and Alex’s teachers work together to help Alex learn. Here are some that might be of interest…

Want more tips on how to make the best of the new school year? The Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) or Community Parent Resource Center (CPRC) in an area or state is an excellent source of resources, materials, support and connections for families of children with disabilities. PTIs and CPRCs can help families understand student’s education rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. They can also help families understand more about their child’s disability and needs as well as promising practices in education. In addition, they can help families learn how to effectively communicate and work with school personnel and other providers in meeting their child’s needs. PTIs and CPRCs provide information on the phone, through workshops (in-person, on-line, live and pre-recorded) and through a treasure trove of materials and resources that are shared on their websites and social media. They may also provide these materials in other languages based upon the needs of families in the community.

Centers are run by well-trained and knowledgeable staff, most of whom have children with disabilities themselves. PTIs and CPRCs answer families’ questions with practical advice or refer families to other organizations in the families’ community that can help. Most centers also extend their training and information services to professionals who work with children with disabilities and their families. And through the PTIs and CPRCs, families can also connect with other families and professionals for support and problem solving.

Many families can feel overwhelmed dealing with multiple issues raised by their child’s needs. PTIs and CPRCs help families sort through the issues and provide strategies to help parents and professionals address them together.

In addition to the PTIs and CPRCs, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services funds a network of technical assistance and dissemination centers that can connect parents and professionals to best practices in special education and early intervention services. Some of these centers include:

And, check out ED’s Early Learning site full of information.

Finally, the new school year is an excellent time for students, no matter what their age, to learn how to advocate for themselves. Whether it’s focusing on using a communication device to indicate what they want or need, or leading their own individualized education plans, parents and teachers can work together to include self-advocacy skills in all that they do with students with disabilities. One good resource is the RAISE Center, Resources for Access, Independence, Self-Advocacy and Employment, also funded by the Department of Education, and the National Resource Center for Supported Decision-Making, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s to a positive, productive new school year for all students!

About the Guest Bloggers

Carmen Sánchez

Carmen Sánchez

Carmen Sánchez is an Education Program Specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education. She is the program lead for the Parent Center Program, which consists of grants for Parent Training and Information (PTIs) and Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) to train, inform, and engage families of children with disabilities throughout the country; and a national, six regional, and two topical technical assistance centers that support the PTIs and CPRCs. She is also the mother of a young adult with disabilities.

Debra Jennings

Debra Jennings

Debra Jennings is the Executive Co-Director of SPAN, a parent-led non-profit organization that empowers families as advocates and partners in improving education, health, and mental health outcomes for infants, toddlers, children and youth. Debra leads SPAN’s parent leadership development activities and also directs SPAN’s national technical assistance centers that are funded by the U.S. Department of Education to provide information, resources and support for the almost 90 Parent Training and Information Centers and Community Parent Resource Centers serving families of children with disabilities and also youth/young adults with disabilities across the U.S. and its territories.

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Education Program Specialist, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education
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Executive Co-Director of SPAN

Inclusive Education Vital for All, Including Persons with Disabilities

I want to draw your attention to today’s News Release from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner regarding the importance of inclusive education for all people, including persons with disabilities. Sometimes I think we forget that our shared work to develop more inclusive schools is, in fact, the foundation of peace in our communities and in our world. Thank you for your peacebuilding work; we have so much more to do.

As you enter the new school year, I hope you will find many opportunities to reflect on Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which the U.S. ratified after World War II. The UDHR serves as the foundational document for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and for all of the other human rights conventions. The CRPD contains no new rights, but helps to explain how modern nations have agreed to interpret the rights of persons with disabilities.

Article 1 of the UDHR reads:

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

I have a UDHR app on my smart phone so that I may try to learn more. I hope you will look it up, too. It is amazing how applicable it is in daily life.

Please share the U.N. News Release.

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