Tom Harkin's  

late brother, Frank, lost his hearing at a very young age, so he knows firsthand the challenges facing Americans with disabilities. Harkin is a longstanding champion of persons with disabilities and a national leader on disability policy.
As a family who lives with someone living with autism and intellectual disability, our family thanks you Senator Harkin.
Working with Senator Bob Dole and others, Tom Harkin authored the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation that protects the civil rights of more than 54 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities. The day the bill was signed into law was one of the proudest moments of Tom Harkin's life. The principles of the ADA -including equality of opportunity and independence - provide the foundation for all of his work on disability policy.
The pursuit of equality of opportunity and independence, to the best of her ability, has been the cornerstone of my advocacy for my daughter for the past 20 years and will be into the future.  Without ADA and IDEA, none of the rights afforded to her would have been possible.  Thank you Senator Harkin.
He helped write legislation reforming education for children with disabilities, with a special emphasis on early intervention.
At a time when autism was rarely diagnosed and understood by a few, my daughter began receiving early intervention services because of ADA and IDEA.  I studied those laws to the best of my ability and fought for services for which she was entitled.  Although limited at the time, she received Birth To Three intervention services.  We were able to obtain a full day Pre-School program for her when the school system only offered a few hours for three days a week. We pushed for sensory integration therapy when few occupational therapists had even heard of it. That was only the beginning.

Thank you Senator Harkin, because ADA and IDEA have given my family the support to fight for my daughter's right to a free appropriate education.  Without these laws, I couldn't imagine what our lives would have been like.

Read on if you're interested

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.

To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Because of ADA, my daughter was and is transported to school safely and with proper supervision.  There is no bullying and the drivers are an integral part of her "community".

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (formerly called P.L. 94-142 or the Education for all Handicapped Children Act of 1975) requires public schools to make available to all eligible children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their individual needs.

IDEA requires public school systems to develop appropriate Individualized Education Programs (IEP's) for each child. The specific special education and related services outlined in each IEP reflect the individualized needs of each student.

IDEA also mandates that particular procedures be followed in the development of the IEP. Each student's IEP must be developed by a team of knowledgeable persons and must be at least reviewed annually. The team includes the child's teacher; the parents, subject to certain limited exceptions; the child, if determined appropriate; an agency representative who is qualified to provide or supervise the provision of special education; and other individuals at the parents' or agency's discretion.

If parents disagree with the proposed IEP, they can request a due process hearing and a review from the State educational agency if applicable in that state. They also can appeal the State agency's decision to State or Federal court.

The IEP is one of the most powerful legal documents a parent of a child with a disability can use to obtain services.  It's helped me advocate and implement new programs over the years.  It's helped me to be a strong partner with the school district.  Teachers identified music as one of my daughter's strengths.  She learned to play the clarinet and saxophone and played with the school bands up through high school graduation.  She had a paraprofessional with her, when needed.  When appropriate, my daughter was taught on a one to one or small group basis.  She has also been and continues to be instructed on daily living, recreational, and community skills.  Because of IDEA, my daughter has the right to receive educational services through age 21.

We've been fortunate to live in a good state and a good town, however, I learned long ago that a student's program is as good as the parent's involvement.  Working with the school system, as opposed to demanding services from them, has benefitted my child as well as others.  We continue to implement programming which emphasizes functional skills to help prepare students transition to adulthood with as much independence as possible.

Section 504

Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service.

Each Federal agency has its own set of section 504 regulations that apply to its own programs. Agencies that provide Federal financial assistance also have section 504 regulations covering entities that receive Federal aid. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations. Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits. It is not necessary to file a complaint with a Federal agency or to receive a "right-to-sue" letter before going to court.

Up until this point, my daughter has had the right to a free appropriate education.  When she is ready to move on from her educational "cocoon" into the world of eligibility restrictions and budget cuts, she will need ADA and Section 504 more and more to obtain equality of opportunity that she is due under the law.  We will continue to advocate and innovate for her into the future.

ADA and IDEA have enhanced my daughter's education specifically and life as a whole.  Providing her with more opportunities to learn and grow has given our family the gift of a fuller life as well.  Although, there is still much to be done in the fight for equal opportunities for people living with disabilities, with much gratitude and appreciation, thank you Senator Harkin.  

Originally posted to Foundmyvoice on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 07:17 AM PST.

Also republished by Parenting on the Autism Spectrum, KosAbility, and Community Spotlight.

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