Raising Awareness on Specific Learning Disabilities

This blog was cross posted from HOMEROOM, the official ED.gov Blog, and  originally appeared on Medium.

Last year I learned about Jade, a dynamic 8th grader who struggled to learn to read when she was in elementary school.

In recalling her challenges, Jade described trouble recognizing letters and difficulty linking them together to form sounds. She just couldn’t read. The worst feeling in the world, Jade said, was starting to believe the names her classmates called her.

For a long time Jade kept her struggle to herself, feeling alone, and like she had to find her own way to deal and cope with this challenge. Fortunately, Jade’s family and teachers stepped in to help her get special education services. These services provided her with individualized strategies to help her read—strategies that she still uses today as she advances through middle school and sets her sights on high school and beyond.

We know that Jade is not alone. Approximately 2.5 million students receiving special education services in schools have learning disabilities, making it the largest disability population in our country. And, while research demonstrates that learners with disabilities who struggle in reading or math can most certainly succeed at rigorous, grade-level coursework with high-quality instruction and appropriate services and accommodations, too many young people don’t get the support they need to succeed. Sadly, and unnecessarily, students with learning disabilities lag far behind their peers in a host of academic indicators.

Too often, children with learning and attention issues are defined by their limitations rather than their strengths. Jade’s story shows us what is possible when educators and families work together to build on the strengths of a child while identifying and addressing their challenges.

By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

That’s why I am proud to highlight October as the month of awareness for Learning Disabilities, Dyslexia, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). By raising awareness of the needs of children with learning and attention issues, we can all make certain that no child falls through the cracks.

Today, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) released guidance to state and local educational agencies. This guidance clarifies that students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—have unique educational needs. It further clarifies that there is nothing in the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that would prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in a student’s evaluation, determination of eligibility for special education and related services, or in developing the student’s individualized education program (IEP).

It is our hope that this guidance will help families and educators work together on behalf of children. We acknowledge that there could be situations in which the child’s parents and the team of qualified professionals responsible for determining whether the child has a specific learning disability would find it helpful to include information about the specific condition (e.g., dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia) in documenting how that condition relates to the child’s eligibility determination. Additionally, there could be situations where an IEP team could determine that personnel responsible for IEP implementation would need to know about the condition underlying the child’s disability (e.g., that a child has a weakness in decoding skills as a result of the child’s dyslexia).

Specifically, this guidance:

  • Clarifies that the list of conditions in the definition of “specific learning disability,” which includes dyslexia, is not an exhaustive list of conditions which may qualify a child as a student with a learning disability;
  • Reminds States of the importance of addressing the unique educational needs of children with specific learning disabilities resulting from dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia during IEP Team meetings and other meetings with parents under IDEA;
  • Encourages States to review their policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that they do not prohibit the use of the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia in evaluations, eligibility, and IEP documents.

This guidance can be found by visiting the Department of Education’s webpage.

The Department is committed to ensuring students with specific learning disabilities—such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia—receive a high-quality education. The month of October is as an opportunity to raise awareness about these critical issues. But we all must remember that helping students, like Jade, to thrive happens not just today, but every day.

Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.
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Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

Career Pathways: Breaking Down Barriers to Employment for Individuals with Disabilities

This blog was cross posted from HOMEROOM, the official ED.gov Blog.

The strength of the American economy is inextricably linked to the strength of our workforce. As the U.S. economy continues to grow, employers report difficulty in finding workers with the specific skills and knowledge that they need. In order to maintain America’s competitive edge, it is critical that employers have access to highly skilled workers to meet the challenges of today’s labor market. With nearly one in five people in the United States identified as having a disability, individuals with disabilities comprise a large group of potential employees who, with the necessary skills and credentials, could help fill this unmet need and participate fully in the labor market and our society.

We know, however, that only about 20 percent of people with disabilities are participating in the labor force, and, that rate is significantly lower for those with only a high school diploma or less. For employed people with disabilities, data reveal that they are underrepresented in management and professional/technical jobs, and overrepresented in service, production, and transportation jobs.

Too often, however, our systems for preparing low-skilled individuals with disabilities with marketable and in-demand skills can be complex and difficult to navigate for students, job seekers, and employers. Career pathways can offer an efficient and customer-centered approach to training and education by integrating the necessary educational instruction, workforce development, and human and social services and supports that are linked to labor market trends and employer needs, leading to stackable credentials.

The State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agency often serves as the primary vehicle in the workforce development system for assisting individuals with disabilities, particularly individuals with the most significant disabilities, to prepare for, obtain, retain, or advance in competitive integrated employment. As partners in the one-stop service delivery system established under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), State VR agencies are well-positioned to coordinate and collaborate with other entities, such as secondary and postsecondary educational institutions, workforce centers and other training providers, human and social service agencies, employers, and other community stakeholders, to develop workforce approaches that are effective in assisting individuals to attain knowledge and skills that can lead to employment in high-demand occupations.

Accordingly,we are pleased to announce a notice of final priority and notice inviting applications to establish model demonstration projects to develop and use career pathways to help individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, acquire necessary marketable skills and recognized postsecondary credentials. We expect to award $3.5 million to State VR agencies, in partnerships with other entities, to develop and implement a collaborative model project demonstrating promising practices and strategies in the use of career pathways to improve the skills of individuals with disabilities, including youth with disabilities, and help them attain the credentials to succeed in our 21st century economy.

We know that the use of career pathways is an effective workforce development strategy that can provide individuals, particularly those with the greatest barriers to employment, with seamless transitions into postsecondary education and employment in careers that provide a family-sustaining wage. Take, for example, the three seniors with disabilities from North Bend High School in Oregon who, with the help of the school transition specialist, a VR counselor, and the local community college, completed a program for Certified Nursing Assistance I (C.N.A). Students were required to attend a total of 75 hours of class training and complete an additional 80 hours of clinical training after school and weekends at a local assisted living center. These students are now enrolled in the C.N.A. II class.

We believe this career pathways investment by the Department of Education, and similar investments by this Administration, will serve to improve the well being of individuals with disabilities, the families they support, the communities in which they live, and our economy.

Michael Yudin is Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and Johan Uvin is the Acting Assistant Secretary of the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education

OSERS Celebrates ADA

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) is excited to announce accomplishments aimed at improving the lives of and expanding opportunities for people with disabilities.

First, just today at the Department’s 25th ADA Celebration, OSERS Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin highlighted a timely new funding announcement:

Accessibility of Computers and Web Sites—Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP)

Today, OSERS announced a new funding opportunity, the Accessibility of Computers and Web Sites through an Automated Personalization Computing Project (APCP), to create the infrastructure we need to make it easier for any person of any age with any disability to more easily use any web enabled device at school, at home, at work, or in the community. This funding opportunity, totaling up to $20 million over five years, will implement a pilot demonstration of automated personalization for individuals with disabilities who are using information and communication technologies. Individuals with disabilities will be able to access communications and information technology on a secure basis no matter where they are (at school, work, home, or in the community), what kind of computer they work on (e.g., desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, kiosk) or what software platform (e.g., PC, Mac, Android, iOS) they are using, as long as it is an APCP-enabled computer with Web access. OSERS is looking forward to receiving and evaluating applications and making the award by the end of this September, 2015.

Additional OSERS ADA Achievements

Increasing Workforce Services for People with Disabilities

In July 2014, President Obama signed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA), which seeks to improve the nation’s workforce development system and strengthens the services provided by the 2,500 American Job Centers to workers, employers and job seekers. WIOA reauthorized the 3.4 billion dollar Vocational Rehabilitation Program, which provides employment supports and training to one million individuals each year seeking high quality employment. WIOA established the Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. All three agencies responsible for implementing WIOA—the Departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services—have taken strides to ensure that people with disabilities have improved access to services and employment outcomes.

“Know It 2 Own It”

OSERS has featured a “Know It 2 Own It” Blog every month over the past year leading up to the 25th Anniversary of the ADA the U.S. Department of Education’s main Homeroom Blog. “Know It 2 Own It” is a campaign that featured monthly stories to encourage the general public to learn more about the disability rights movement and history that led to the passage of the ADA.

Awarding Grants to Help Individuals with Disabilities Obtain Employment

In 2014, OSERS’ Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) awarded a five-year, $9 million grant to the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston for a Job-Driven Vocational Rehabilitation Technical Assistance Center. Also in 2014, OSERS’ Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSEP) and RSA funded a joint Technical Assistance Center, the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), to improve postsecondary and employment outcomes for all students with disabilities.

Promoting the Readiness of Minors who Receive Supplemental Security Income (PROMISE)

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) administers PROMISE, a $211 million program. PROMISE is an interagency collaboration of the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Labor and the Social Security Administration, is a 5-year grant program under which state agencies have partnered to develop and implement six model demonstration projects that provide coordinated services and supports designed to improve the education and career outcomes of children with disabilities who receive supplemental security income in eleven states.

Ensuring Results-Driven Accountability Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Over the past several years, OSERS has implemented a revised accountability system under the IDEA known as Results-Driven Accountability, which shifts efforts from a primary emphasis on compliance to a framework that focuses on improved results for students with disabilities, including performance on assessments, graduation rates, and early childhood outcomes.

Supporting Accessible Books

OSERS supports Bookshare, the world’s largest collection of accessible titles online. The service is free to students who are blind, visually impaired, or certified as having a print disability. Bookshare has a total of 301,000 education titles with 350,000 students with its services. In addition, the Administration participated in the successful negotiation of the Marrakesh Copyright Treaty to increase access to print materials for the world’s estimated 340 million blind, visually impaired, and other persons with print disabilities. The United States played a leadership role in negotiating this treaty, which should help reduce the global shortage of print materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print, and accessible digital files, while maintaining the integrity of the international copyright framework.

Bookshare is also working to ensure image that descriptions are also shown in Bookshare titles, increasing their accessibility working through the DIAGRAM Center, a research and development center whose goal is to improve the way image and graphic content for accessible instructional materials (AIM) is produced and accessed so that students with print disabilities are provided equal access to the general education curriculum.

Supporting Inclusive Schoolwide Reform

In 2012, the OSERS awarded a five year $25 million grant to the SWIFT Center to assist states and local school districts successfully implement and sustain inclusive schoolwide reform in kindergarten through grade 8. The SWIFT Center provides intensive technical assistance to improve the practices within schools that lead to success for all students, including those with disabilities and the most intensive support needs.

Correctional Education in Juvenile Justice Facilities

In 2014, OSERS, in partnership with the Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice issued comprehensive guidance supporting the civil rights and educational needs of students with disabilities in juvenile justice facilities.

Guidance on Keeping Students with Disabilities Safe from Bullying

In 2013, OSERS issued guidance regarding the bullying of students with disabilities. The guidance makes clear that the bullying of a student with a disability that results in the student not receiving meaningful educational benefit constitutes a denial of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA that must be remedied.

Guidance on Braille Instruction

In 2013, OSERS issued guidance affirming the importance of Braille instruction as a literacy tool for blind and visually impaired students, clarifies the circumstances in which Braille instruction should be provided, and reiterates the scope of an evaluation required to guide decision of Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams in this area. Additionally, the guidance identifies resources that are designed to help strengthen the capacity of the state and local personnel to meet the needs of students who are blind or visually impaired.

Effective Communication

A November 12, 2014 joint guidance and accompanying FAQ by OSERS, the Office of Civil Rights, and the U.S. Department of Justice, ensuring educational agencies understand the different requirements under IDEA and the ADA and its Section 504 with respect to children with a hearing, vision, or speech disability. While IDEA requires that schools make available free appropriate public education (FAPE), consisting of special education and related services, Title II has a specific effective communication requirement for individuals with disabilities – requiring schools to ensure that students with disabilities receive communication that is as effective as communication with others through the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.

Personnel Prep

OSERS Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) currently supports 28 personnel development programs that prepare professionals to provide special instruction for children with visual impairment and blind.

Examples of work topics and products include:

  • working to develop standard measures and competencies for completing braille course work in the Unified English Braille Code (UEB),
  • development of CEC standards for teachers of the visually impaired, and
  • a survey of the university programs on curricula in technology, requirements, measures of competency, and more.

Media & Technology Services

Video-on-Demand Children’s TV Programming Now Accessible for Thousands of Students with Visual or Hearing Disabilities.

The Accessible Television Portal project opens access to free, video-on-demand children’s television programming for thousands of students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing.

Some projects in this area are designed to support the education of children with sensory disabilities by providing support for captioning and video description of educational materials that are appropriate for use in educational environments.

Stepping Up Technology Implementation.

Stepping up projects support efforts to scale up the use of existing, technologies and accompanying instructional strategies in educational environments. An example is: Improving Literacy and Technology Skills Using the Braille Challenge Mobile at the California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA), and the Braille Institute of America (BIA). The main goal of the project is to support the development of literacy skills of children who read braille by creating and disseminating a mobile app, the Braille Challenge Mobile App (BCMA), and incorporating evidence-based instructional strategies and supporting the development of reading and writing skills.

Also, please check out the:

Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
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Assistant Secretary Michael K. Yudin leads the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) at the U.S. Department of Education.

July 1, 2015 — Making a Shift in the Public Workforce System

This article is cross-posted on the:

Today, July 1, 2015, marks the day that many of the provisions of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) take effect. This new law has the potential to make a tremendous difference for tens of millions of workers, jobseekers and students across this country. WIOA’s transformation of our publicly-funded workforce system means that all of us—federal and state partners, governments, non-profits and educational and training institutions, must be pressing for innovations to ensure:

  • the needs of business and workers drive our workforce solutions
  • one-stop centers, also known as American Job Centers (AJCs) provide excellent customer service to both jobseekers and employers and focus on continuous improvement; and
  • the workforce system supports strong regional economies and plays an active role in community and economic development.

July 1st is about “opportunity.” It’s about implementing strategies to help workers and jobseekers achieve their full potential. Through our AJCs and other service locations, the public workforce system will meet people where they are, whether they’re young adults just starting out, or experienced workers whose need to retool their skills to succeed, whether they are a person with a disability or someone who faces other barriers to a job. Our aligned services need to help each of them build a meaningful career and achieve economic independence.

Now is the time for action among all workforce partners. It is truly a new day for the American workforce system.

Some states and local areas are already hard at work implementing the law and laying the groundwork for big changes and big ideas. Some have formed new partnerships and are creatively aligning workforce resources. Others are redesigning customer service strategies at the nearly 2,500 local AJCs.

But we still have much work to do to realize the full vision of WIOA.

Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going

Through town halls and virtual stakeholder events, we listened to you. The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, incorporated your feedback into proposed regulations and will continue to do so as we review comments and develop final regulations. We have released early Operational Guidance and technical assistance tools, including a set of Quick Start Action Planners, to help you assess your readiness to implement WIOA and identify areas of strength and focused areas for improvement. And we will continue to issue program guidance throughout the year to operationalize WIOA.

Now that most of WIOA is in effect, we will continue to support the public workforce system as state and local officials transform their systems. Here are the steps we’ll be taking this year to implement WIOA and provide assistance for states and local areas across the country:

  • Providing states opportunities and information to develop State Implementation Teams that will allow workforce system programs to share specific challenges, conduct in-person planning, and connect more directly to the right resources.
  • Rolling out the Innovation Opportunity Network (ION) (workforce3one.org), an online learning and teaching community which is a partnership of programs and services, designed to help all levels of workforce development professionals, stakeholders, and partners connect with peers throughout the public workforce system who are working to implement WIOA. ION will provide training and technical assistance, focused on themes the partners have identified as a priority: change management, strategic boards, regionalism, customer-centered service delivery, talent development strategies, system alignment and other topics. Tools include an Act Now webinar series, Voices of Experience videos and podcasts, a community of practice site, virtual events related to WIOA operating guidance. Get engaged by visiting ion.workforce3one.org

Our work has never been more important, and we want to make sure every partner and every region has what you need to succeed. We look forward to working with you to realize the vision of WIOA!

WIOA Updates and Resources

For WIOA updates and resources, please visit OSERS’ WIOA Web page.

Additional information can be found on the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education’s (OCTAE) WIOA Web site and the Department of Labor’s WIOA Web site.


Contributing Authors:

  • Portia Wu, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training, U.S. Department of Labor
  • Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education
  • Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education
  • Janet LaBreck, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, U.S. Department of Education
  • Mark Greenberg, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Administration of Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Michael Yudin, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
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Assistant Secretary, Special Education and Rehabilitative Services