JAYMIE BIANCA ’21
Recently, Betsy Devos, United States Secretary of Education, rescinded 72 documents that outlined policies and regulations for people with disabilities. These policies were deemed as excessive by the Trump administration, and do not reflect current policies. However, I am a firm believer that each document was written for a reason. Each was written in response to an occurrence, and were implemented to ensure certain situations do not happen again. However, with these documents no longer active, there is therefore less clarification concerning disability policies.
With less clarity, it will be harder for the nation, especially individual states, to properly execute many policies that have served as a lifeline for many families, including my own. My brother Brandon is on the autism spectrum, and, throughout his life, I have watched my parents fight for his rights and ensure that he is receiving the required services from his school. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s because of the progression of disability policy that has made it possible for my brother to attend school, play sports, and have the life he deserves to live. One act that made this dream a reality for my brother is the Individuals with Disabilities Act. The stipulations outlined in this document include numerous regulations for inclusivity in schools, including the fact that children with special needs must be educated in the “least restrictive environment.” While this is stated in the act itself, there are other documents that clarify what the least restrictive environment would look like. Therefore, Devos rescinding these documents will only cause confusion for schools across the nation. What does the least restrictive environment look like? How do we make that happen? These are some of the questions that administrators will begin to ask without any direction whatsoever from federal guidelines.
When asked in an interview, Devos explicitly said that disability policies should be up to each individual state. The problems that will arise from letting states decide which policies to implement will be immense. First, states can decide how much (or how little) assistance and funding they need to give to people with disabilities. This opens up a door for discrimination based on disability, which is something that the nation has certainly tried to get away from. If Devos actually keeps her word, then she will be eradicating the work of numerous advocates, such as Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics in 1968. Kennedy saw the potential for children with special needs, and therefore gave them an opportunity during a time where they were placed in asylums. Children with disabilities were not provided an inclusive environment until the 1980s, which is, in theory, not that long ago. We have worked too hard to allow Devos and the Trump administration to continually abolish vital documents pertaining to people with disabilities. It is not an option, but rather a human right, for individuals with special needs to benefit from service and inclusivity so they are therefore able to unlock their potential. Hopefully, continuing to advocate and fight for disability rights and policies will be a step in the right direction that will salvage the future for people with disabilities.