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Back to School on Civil Rights 

VII. Improving Public Awareness: Technical Assistance and Public Information for Students with Disabilities, Their Families, and Advocates

A. Department of Education--Overview
The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) has always authorized technical assistance initiatives. Some are directed to states and other service-providing entities; others are intended for the public generally. Still others are directed to addressing the technical assistance needs of students with disabilities, their families, and their advocates in obtaining the services and supports that must be made available to students with disabilities under the law. For Fiscal Year 1999, $44.5 million was appropriated for IDEA technical assistance and dissemination. These funds provide for "technical assistance and information, through such mechanisms as institutes, Regional Resource Centers, clearinghouses, and programs that support states and local entities in building capacity, to improve early intervention, educational and transitional services, and results for children with disabilities and their families and address systemic-change goals and priorities."[314] In accordance with this authority, the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has funded three primary technical assistance programs for Fiscal Year 1999 for students with disabilities, their parents and families, and advocates. They are the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY); The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project of the Minnesota parent organization (the PACER Center); and the Parent Training and Information (PTI) centers, including the Technical Assistance Alliance, also managed by the PACER Center, which provides technical assistance to the PTIs.

As a result of the 1997 Reauthorization, OSEP funded Partnership Projects to provide technical assistance to membership associations representing four different stakeholder groups involved with the implementation of IDEA: families and advocacy groups, service providers, local school administrators and policy-makers. Begun in October 1998, Partnership Projects consists of collaborative initiatives by all four stakeholder groups to ensure that their grassroots constituents get consistent information about the Reauthorization changes, as well as best practices for effectively implementing IDEA. The Partnership initiative also has a coordinating committee that works on addressing implementation issues raised by any stakeholder group from all stakeholder perspectives.

Under other legislative authorities, the National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA), and the Department of Education's (DoED's) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) each also play a role in providing IDEA- or education-related technical assistance, information, and materials for students with disabilities, their parents, and families.

1. OSEP

a. National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities
The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) is an information and resource clearinghouse. NICHCY is an OSEP initiative that provides information on children and youth with disabilities (birth to age 22). In Fiscal Year 1999, NICHCY received $1.1 million to operate a clearinghouse that offers a toll-free number and a web site providing information and materials about children and youth with disabilities, special education, IDEA, and related matters. NICHCY receives about 40,000 contacts per year-- including phone calls, e-mail, and mail requests for referral, information, or technical assistance. About half of these contacts are from professionals and about half from children with disabilities and their families. NICHCY's web site provides descriptions of and price information about all printed publications that it makes available. Most are accessible at the web site and can be printed out free of charge. NICHCY's web site also offers a text-only version for individuals with vision disabilities who may be using a screen reader. Materials provided by NICHCY are available on computer disk by request.

b. The Families and Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) Project
In 1998 OSEP awarded $6 million in grants for national education and outreach about IDEA 1997. Four grants of $1.5 million each per year for up to five years were awarded to three organizations. Of the three grantees, the parent-run PACER Center based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, provides material and information specifically for students, their families, and advocates. The other grantees were the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and the Council for Exceptional Children, which was awarded two grants.

c. Parent Training and Information (PTI) Centers and the Technical Assistance Alliance
The largest source of technical assistance and information for students, families, and their advocates is the OSEP Parent Training and Information (PTI) centers funded at $18.5 million for Fiscal Year 1999 through the OSEP Parent Program. There is at least one PTI center in each state. Also supported under this funding initiative is the Technical Assistance Alliance managed by the PACER Center, which provides technical assistance to the PTIs. Parent Training and Information centers typically provide training and information about various special education topics for parents, families, and children living in the areas served by the individual centers.

The goals of the Parent Program are to provide information, training, and support to the families of children with disabilities in becoming more effective advocates for the supports and services their children need to receive the benefits of a free appropriate public education under IDEA. The Parent Program recognizes the critical role of parents in their children's education and aims at preparing them to be active participants in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, eligibility, and placement decisions. Most important, the program seeks to impart information about the procedural safeguards available when the system is out of compliance with the law. These goals are accomplished through general and specific training, workshops, and presentations, as well as through printed material(s), newsletters, web sites, and individual support and advocacy. This training and support focuses on both individual advocacy and systems advocacy.[315]

PTI services, therefore, can include assisting parents in understanding the nature of their child's disability and education needs; providing information about ways parents can communicate effectively with service-providing personnel; helping parents participate in the IEP process; assisting parents in obtaining appropriate information about the range of options, programs, services, and resources available; helping parents understand IDEA procedural safeguards; and assisting parents in understanding IDEA and participation in school reform activities.[316]

The PTIs are currently assembling a comprehensive list of their combined technical assistance, training, and informational materials for parents and families. The list had not been completed nor was preliminary information available during the course of this study. The PTIs are also working on a report showing how many students, parents, families, and others annually receive some form of technical assistance from the various centers, but it also had not yet been completed at the conclusion of this study, and preliminary data were not available.

d. The Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers
The Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers (the Alliance) has served as the coordinating office for the Technical Assistance to Parent Projects since October 1, 1997. The Alliance provides technical assistance for establishing, developing, and coordinating Parent Training and Information centers under IDEA. The Alliance maintains a web site with links to PTIs and other parent resources and organizations. The site is available in a text-only as well as a graphic format. On request the Alliance provides technical assistance materials on audiotape and in large print, and audio described and captioned videos.

e. Technical Assistance to Indian Communities
OSEP has worked closely with parents, educators, tribal leaders, and advocates in the Native American community. For example, OSEP staff participated in the National Indian School Board Association's 1997 and 1998 annual conferences and the National Indian Education Association's 1998 conference, conducting focus groups and individual meetings with parents, tribal leaders, and advocates. In 1999, OSEP provided an intensive two-day training for Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) staff, including non-central office staff. OSEP has also worked with BIA staff in providing training to OSEP monitoring staff regarding Native American cultures. OSEP will be working closely in the future with BIA's newly created special education advisory board.

Despite OSEP's increased efforts, Native American leaders report a lack of general knowledge among local people about the law, their rights under the law, and the role of BIA in ensuring that all requirements of Part B are met. Improved implementation of IDEA in Native American communities depends, in part, on effective participation by parents of children with disabilities, tribal leaders, and representatives from national Indian education organizations on the advisory boards and steering committees directing BIA efforts.

2. National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)
The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR), one of three OSERS programs, undertakes research related to the rehabilitation of individuals with disabilities. Some NIDRR projects include the development of training, technical assistance, and other general materials related to IDEA or other special education issues. Some projects develop materials specifically for parents and families. Others are aimed at various professional audiences but may be of general interest to parents. NIDRR also administers the Protection & Advocacy for Assistive Technology (PAAT) program, created in 1994 when Congress expanded the Technology-Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Tech Act) to include funding for Parent and Advocacy systems (P&As) to "assist individuals with disabilities and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives in accessing technology devices and assistive technology services" through case management, legal representation, and self-advocacy training.

3. Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)
RSA administers the Protection and Advocacy for Individual Rights (PAIR) program, established by Congress as a national program under the Rehabilitation Act in 1993. PAIR programs were created to protect and advocate for the legal and human rights of persons with disabilities who were not covered by previous legislation.

4. Office for Civil Rights
The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) regularly provides technical assistance to parents and educators on rights under Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) through presentations at conferences, community meetings, published materials, and posting of information on DoED's web site. A toll-free number, staffed at the OCR headquarters office in Washington, DC, handled nearly 5,000 inquires in FY 1998.[317] OCR staff members at headquarters and in the 12 enforcement offices throughout the country handle many more inquiries from students and parents by telephone, written correspondence, and electronic mail. In addition, OCR provides technical assistance on the rights of students with disabilities to the students themselves, their families, and educators in conjunction with the investigation of disability complaints, which make up 60% of OCR's total complaint receipts.[318]

5. Department of Health and Human Services-- Administration on 
Developmental Disabilities
The Administration for Children, Youth, and Families' Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) administers the Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PADD) program, a system in each state and territory that provides protection of the rights of persons with disabilities through legally based advocacy. The P&As system was created by the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights (DD) Act of 1975.

The National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems (NAPAS) reports providing about 250,000 individuals annually with information, technical assistance, and referral to other resources. Of this number, approximately 40,000 students with disabilities, their parents, and their families are provided with information related to their educational rights and responsibilities under IDEA. NAPAS also reports representing approximately 19,000 students with disabilities in IDEA matters either with informal or formal advocacy, or representation at administrative hearings or in court.[319]

B. Resource List of IDEA and Education-Related Technical Assistance, Training, and Informational Materials Collection Approach
In an effort to identify federally funded IDEA- and education-related technical assistance and informational materials for students with disabilities, parents, and families, lists of materials were collected from sources that could verify federal support for the creation of the documents. These sources included NICHCY, the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC)--a NIDRR project that collects and disseminates the results of federally funded research projects-- some individual PTI centers, the Technical Assistance Alliance, NAPAS, and several NIDRR-funded grantees. A database was created that assigned the titles to one of two audience categories: Category One--students, parents and families, and advocates; Category Two--general audience. Those titles included in the general audience category were also considered useful to parents, although they are not the intended primary audience as far as could be discerned from indicators such as the works' title, abstract, source, and keywords.

Titles were not included when professionals were clearly the intended audience, or applicability to and interest for parents and families was not apparent. If the information was available, the database also includes a notation if the materials are available in languages other than English, and whether the list's source--web site or larger databases such as found on NARIC for example--indicated whether the materials are available in alternative formats such as audiotape, disk, or Braille.

Two hundred eighteen federally funded education or IDEA technical assistance, training, public, or general information titles were identified that were either created for parents and families or that are potentially useful to them. Of these, 66 appear aimed at either a general or a professional audience, but could be of interest to parents and families; and 152 were specifically created for students with disabilities, their parents and families, and advocates. Three are advertised as available in Braille; four are videos; three of the videos provide captioning. Forty- eight titles are available in languages other than English; 90 titles are available in full text format on the web. The titles were assigned to the 24 content categories in the following table:

Table 24: IDEA / Education-Related Technical Assistance Materials and Information
Category Number of Titles
Technology 34
General Interest 20
Disability/Diagnosis 23
Transition 22
Law/Rights 30
Advocacy/Communication 14
Individualized Education Plan 12
Resources 11
Inclusion 9
Assessment 8
Related Services 6
For Students Only 4
Juvenile Justice 4
Discipline 4
Due Process 4
Families 3
Organizing 2
Mediation, Literature, Gender, Culture, Private Schools, Culturally Appropriate Services, Least Restrictive Environment and Miscellaneous 8 (1 ea.)
Total 218

C. Findings and Recommendations

Finding # VII.1
During 1999, OSEP committed about one-third of its technical assistance resources to informational programs for students, parents, and families--an increase from previous years.
This increase showed a clear commitment to enhancing the ability of students and parents to participate in the educational planning process by developing and disseminating training and informational materials and resources, providing peer and professional support, and strengthening parent organizations through capacity building.

Recommendation # VII.1
The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) should strongly promote inter- and intra-agency collaboration to leverage existing resources available to help states correct areas of noncompliance. The objective of this collaboration should be to make available the technical assistance materials and programs state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) may request or be required to accept in order to correct specific noncompliance problems.

Finding # VII.2
Only 2 percent of OSERS' resource list publications provided support and information to students themselves in planning their own educational and transition programs.
OSERS' resource materials and programs needed greater emphasis on helping students with disabilities to understand and advocate for their civil rights as students in public schools, and in the transition to living as adults with disabilities in their communities. As OSERS continues to stress transition from school to work and community life, students and their parents must understand how IDEA, ADA, the Fair Housing Act (FHAA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act affect their opportunities for meaningful integration, employment, and access to post-secondary educational programs.

Recommendation # VII.2
OSERS should prepare students for effective self-advocacy in their education planning and transition to employment and independent living by (1) expanding its resource publications dealing with these issues, (2) developing training initiatives and technical assistance materials, and (3) supporting model student-led self-advocacy programs.
OSEP should develop materials and provide training for students with disabilities and their parents about the provisions of the ADA, Section 504, FHAA, and other pertinent disability laws to help young adults with disabilities understand their civil rights and inform them about the programs available to assist their transition from school to independent living in the community, employment, and post secondary education. Greater emphasis on self-advocacy also will prepare students with disabilities and their families to support state and federal compliance monitoring and enforcement activities more effectively.

Finding # VII.3
OSEP's outreach priorities and resource materials did not address judicial interpretations of IDEA and OSEP policies in a way that assists students with disabilities and their parents in understanding of their implications.
Since schools are familiar with legal developments, students and parents can be disadvantaged without this same information.

Recommendation # VII.3
OSEP should fund the development of materials and provide training and technical assistance for parents and students on the implications of judicial interpretations of IDEA court cases and OSEP policies.

Finding # VII.4
Current technical assistance initiatives have not met the need for materials, training and technical assistance to help students with disabilities and their parents understand and evaluate their states' monitoring system.

Recommendation # VII.4
OSEP should initiate and develop a program to train students with disabilities and parents in evaluating the effectiveness of their state's IDEA compliance monitoring systems and their state's self-assessment process.

Finding # VII.5
Twenty-two percent of technical assistance and informational materials from the resource list were either directed to non-English speaking audiences or available in languages other than English.

Recommendation # VII.5
OSERS should continue to expand its initiatives to serve non-English speaking groups and create culturally appropriate training materials by (1) increasing outreach to minority students and parents, (2) enhancing the capability of the Technical Assistance Alliance, PTIs, the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC), and NIDRR research projects to create culturally appropriate non-English language materials, and (3) translating more existing materials into languages other than English.
This percentage is a notable increase from previous years, yet there are still too few culturally appropriate materials available in languages other than English in relation to the number of students and their families needing them.

Finding # VII.6
The need for training of students with disabilities and their parents in the requirements of IDEA is especially urgent in communities where noncompliance persists over time. Despite a steady increase over time in the amount of technical assistance materials available to under-served populations of students with disabilities and their families, noncompliance still tends to persist at a higher rate and over longer periods of time in these communities.
The resource list shows that materials are still scarce for students with disabilities in the juvenile justice, immigration, and naturalization and child welfare systems, as well as for students attending schools operated or funded by the BIA. Multicultural and language-appropriate materials for these groups are scarcer still.

Recommendation # VII.6A
OSEP should expand its program support for initiatives that promote educational opportunities and rights for under-served populations of children and youth with disabilities and their families. More programs are needed to explain IDEA's requirements in light of the unique needs of students with disabilities involved in the juvenile justice, immigration, and naturalization and child welfare systems, as well as in schools operated or funded by BIA, to their families and advocates, as follows:

  • culturally appropriate technical assistance to ensure the ability of Native American children with disabilities, their families, tribal leaders, and advocates in every interested tribe to participate as full partners in implementing IDEA in their communities. Culturally appropriate training and technical assistance should be developed and delivered through the satellite offices of disability technical assistance centers (DBTACs) around the country that are managed and staffed primarily by Native Americans.

  •  
  • training of the appropriate players in the juvenile justice system, including judicial and institutional personnel, in IDEA's civil rights requirements, how they apply within the juvenile justice system, and ways the law can be used to help minimize detention of children with disabilities in the juvenile justice system.

  •  
  • training of the appropriate players in the immigration and naturalization and child welfare systems, including federal and state agency, judicial, and institutional personnel, in IDEA's civil rights requirements.
Recommendation # VII.6B
OSEP, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), should also fund training programs for special education lawyers on applying IDEA in the criminal justice system, and for public defenders and staff on IDEA's educational requirements to enable both to advocate more effectively for the educational rights of students with disabilities involved in state and local criminal justice systems.

Finding # VII.7A
The Department of Education's IDEA technical assistance program addressed a wide range of important information and training needs. The overall strategy, however, did not seem to place priority on developing a comprehensive, coordinated, and targeted technical assistance system in each state focused on empowering students with disabilities and their families for effective self-advocacy to address documented areas of noncompliance state-wide.

Finding # VII.7B
The advocacy training programs and services available in most states fell far short of the existing need.

Recommendation # VII.7
The Department of Education should give priority support to the formation of a comprehensive, high quality, and coordinated technical assistance system in each state by developing a separate OSEP-administered funding stream to aid federally funded advocacy groups in coordinating and making available self-advocacy training programs, resources, and services to students with disabilities and their parents throughout the state. Elements of the coordinated technical assistance systems should include the following:

  • The availability of a lawyer at every state PTI center, protection and advocacy agency, and independent living center able to provide competent legal advice to students with disabilities and their parents in advocating for their rights.

  •  
  • Self-advocacy training programs for students with disabilities and their parents focused on civil rights awareness, education and transition planning, and independent living in the community.

  •  
  • The establishment of a national backup center to make legal materials, training, and other supports available for attorneys working on IDEA cases and issues at the state level.

  •  
  • Expansion of involvement by the private bar and legal services organizations in providing legal advice to students with disabilities and their parents in advocating for their legal rights under IDEA.
The key disability advocacy organizations at the state level (PTIs, P&As, and IL centers) need additional funding to effectively implement a joint collaborative strategy for increased outreach and education of the general public and state legislators, technical assistance and advocacy for transition planning and services, independent monitoring of state compliance with IDEA, and affordable legal assistance to parents advocating for their child with a disability. The goal of the collaborative strategy is to increase each state's compliance with FAPE, LRE, IEP, Transition, General Supervision, Procedural Safeguards, and Protection in Evaluation. 

Part VIII summarizes the findings and recommendations of this report.

To Part VIII, Summary and Conclusions

To TOC, IDEA Compliance Report

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