10 Things to Help Your Child in School
1. Reduced-Price/Free Breakfast or Lunch. Each year, thousands of public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions serve nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free meals to children from low income families through the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
Who is eligible? Use this Income Eligibility chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to find out if your child can get free or reduced-price meals this school year.
Do you receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits? Your child automatically qualifies for free meals. Want to sign up? You can apply at any time during the school year, but keep an eye out for the 2013/2014 application, which may be sent home with your child during the first week of school. For more information on Child Nutrition Programs in your state, visit www.fns.usda.gov/office-type/child-nutrition-programs.
2. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) Fact Sheets are a great starting point for anyone who is living or working with a child who has a disability. Written specifically to meet the needs of parents and educators, NICHCY’s fact sheets on specific disabilities (e.g., autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome) cover definitions, causes, characteristics, educational considerations and helpful organizations to contact for further information. Most also include available supports (by age group), tips for parents and teachers and a brief story about a child who has that particular disability.
3. Individualized Education Program (IEP). An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written document that sets reasonable learning goals for a student with a disability and documents the services and supports that will be offered by the school district to meet his or her unique educational needs. Any child who goes to a public school and receives special education and related services must have an IEP, which is developed by a team of key school staff, the student’s parents and the child, when appropriate.
Where can I learn more? NICHCY offers an in-depth guide on “Developing Your Child’s IEP,” as well as this fact sheet on “10 Basic Steps in Special Education.” You may also want to watch this helpful five-part video series on “The IEP Team Process: A Framework for Success,” which was produced by the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center, a North Carolina Parent Training and Information Center (PTI).
How do I find a PTI near me? Parent Centers provide training, information and assistance to families of children with disabilities from birth to 26 years old. Visit the Parent Technical Assistance Center Network website to find a PTI in your region. In New Mexico, contact Parents Reaching Out, phone 505-247-0192, or 800-524-5176 (in state only). In El Paso, Texas contact Partners Resource Network, phone 806-762-1434, or 877-762-1435 (in state only).
4. Power Up! Apps for Kids with Special Needs and Learning Differences is an educational guide that was created by Common Sense Media to help parents choose the best online supports for kids who struggle with traditional learning. The apps are organized into six different categories: Communication, Social Interaction, Organization, Reading, Mathematics and Motor Skills, and vary by the level of difficulty (i.e., Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced). For each category, an overview is included with a list of the typical challenges that kids face, how to choose apps that match their needs, additional resources and suggested activities.
5. Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM), such as Braille, large print, audio and digital text, are given to students who are unable to read or use standard print materials to do their schoolwork. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004, schools are required to provide AIM in a timely manner to K–12 students who are blind or have print disabilities in order to help them participate and achieve in the classroom.
The National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials offers technical assistance to ensure state and local education agencies do their part to implement the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. The website also includes a Q&A section for families and educators.
6. Teaching Resources. There are many online resources available for teachers who have students with disabilities and want to help them succeed in the classroom and beyond. One example is Do2Learn, a website that offers free social skills activities, songs and games, as well as transition guides for employment and life skills.
The site’s Disabilities section covers four topic areas: Definitions; Evaluation and Identification; Characteristics and Strategies; and Parents and Teachers. Another resource, Edutopia, has a blog, Addressing Bullying of Students with Disabilities, which offers recommendations on how to deal with this troubling issue. We Are Teachers compiles lessons and resources, including some that pertain specifically to students with disabilities (e.g., resources on assistive technology, inclusive activities and self-advocacy skills).
7. Physical Education. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released guidance on its regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which require public elementary and secondary schools to give students with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate, alongside their peers, in extracurricular athletics. Under these regulations, students with disabilities cannot be excluded from trying out for and playing on a team. This does not mean schools should change the essential rules of a game or provide an unfair competitive advantage to a student with a disability – rather, they are required to provide reasonable modifications (e.g., using a laser instead of a starter pistol to start a race so a runner who is deaf can compete).
8. Reading Help. Many kids struggle with reading. It is estimated that nearly one million American children (ages 6 through 21) have some form of a learning disability and receive special education in school. That’s where Reading Rockets can help. Launched in 2001 as an education initiative of WETA, a public television and radio station in Washington, D.C., the website contains information for parents and teachers about reading strategies, lessons and activities that can help young children learn how to read and build comprehension skills. Reading Rockets also produces award-winning television programs for national broadcast on PBS, including A Tale of Two Schools, hosted by Morgan Freeman, and the Launching Young Readers series.
9. Accessible Libraries. Individuals who are blind or have a physical disability may be eligible to receive books and magazines in alternate formats, such as audio (talking books) and Braille, delivered free of charge through the mail by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). Playback equipment, such as digital recorders and cassette machines, can also be borrowed at no cost. NLS, which is part of the Library of Congress, provides these services through a network of 113 regional and sub-regional libraries across the country. Library patrons have access to more than 320,000 book titles, including bestsellers, romances, classics, children’s books, biographies and mysteries. Visit the NLS website to learn more about signing up for the program, find out if you are eligible or locate an NLS library in your community.
10. Disability.gov offers many resources, including those listed in this newsletter, for students with disabilities, their parents and educators. The site’s Education section features information on evaluating children for disabilities, accommodations and supports in the classroom, getting ready for college, making the transition from school to work and services for infants and toddlers.
Technology is everywhere and technology experts, business leaders and educators agree that coding skills are beneficial, regardless of one’s future career. Kids are not only creating snowflakes with Anna and Elsa from Frozen, but also learning valuable life lessons in problem solving and critical thinking. Luckily, you don’t have to be a digital native to get started. There are several free resources available to help kids (and you) become a technology whiz. Try Code.org’s Hour of Code, a one-hour introduction to computer science, download one of these recommended apps for learning how to code or make a website by signing up for Codecademy. Don’t forget about the importance of accessibility.
Technology for Older Adults and People with Disabilities often equates greater independence by helping them track important information and stay connected to their family and friends. It can also assist caregivers who are looking after their loved ones. For example, GPS tools may be valuable for a family member who has Alzheimer’s or dementia by keeping tabs on their whereabouts. Other applications, such as RxmindMe or Personal Caregiver, track when medications have been taken. Technology even increases the safety of seniors living at home.
While technology is a blessing, sometimes it is difficult to use. To help older adults improve their technology skills or find classes in your community, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. You can also read “Staying Connected: Technology Options for Older Adults,” which explains how to set up email, send a text message or use Skype. If you are baffled by Facebook or Twitter, the AARP Social Media Training Center can teach you how to become a social media pro.
For video gamers with disabilities, AbleGamers recognizes the best in game design each year with its Accessible Mainstream Game of the Year award. The Foundation’s Unstoppable Gamer site provides accessibility reviews, along with a forum for members to chat about their experiences. Game developers can visit the Includification site, which shares solutions for common concerns in games for people with hearing, visual, cognitive or mobility impairments.
If you’re a business owner and want to make your workplace technology more accessible, use a free interactive tool called TechCheck to help identify ways to make improvements. Accessibility consulting is a rapidly growing field and finding qualified professionals who are skilled in correctly identifying and fixing accessibility issues is important. One place you can start is the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP).
Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies may cover part of the cost for durable medical equipment (e.g., wheelchairs, hospital beds, oxygen or walkers) and other AT; however, the rules and amount of coverage vary in each state. Start with Disability.gov’s Guide to Assistive and Accessible Technology to learn how to find and pay for AT. Another great resource is your state’s AT program, where you can get help choosing free or low-cost AT and durable medical equipment.