The Education Dept. publishes a set of guidelines that underscore the duty of schools to meet the classroom communications needs of K-12 students with hearing, vision or speech disabilities.
ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, along with DOJ, issued guidance in the form of a Dear Colleague letter to educators. It detailed public schools’ responsibilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Title II of Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Recently, ED issued a similar guidance letter, warning school districts that they have to take legal action to prevent bullying in their hallways, especially when such bullying is directed at students with disabilities.
Of the three federal laws, probably the strictest is Title II of ADA. It requires 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. In some cases, a school may have to provide the student with auxiliary aids or services that are not required under the IDEA or an IEP. In other instances, the communication services provided under the IDEA will meet the requirements of both laws for an individual student, the guidance said. Schools need to be knowledgeable about requirements of both federal laws in order to meet the communication needs of students with disabilities.
Title II requires public school districts to ensure that communication with students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities is as effective as communication with students without disabilities. To do this, public schools must provide appropriate “auxiliary aids and services” where necessary.
Auxiliary aids and services include a wide range of services, devices, technologies and methods for providing effective communication. The Title II regulation lists examples which include: interpreters, note takers, exchange of written materials, real time computer-aided transcription services (e.g., CART), assistive listening systems, accessible electronic and information technology, and open and closed captioning.
Further, the auxiliary aid or service provided must permit the person with the disability to access the information. For example, if a blind student is not able to read Braille, then provision of written material in Braille would not be the right solution for that student.
Public schools cannot charge for the auxiliary aids or services that they provide to meet the effective communications provision in the Title II regulations. DOJ and ED advise school districts that they inform students with disabilities and their parents that the district can and will provide auxiliary aids and services, and that there will be no cost for such aids or services.
Fortunately, federal agencies offer a range of competitive grants to help meet the needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.
ED’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services and Nat’l Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research each year offers these grants: Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program: Improving the Accessibility, Usability, and Performance of Technology for Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (CFDA Number 84.133E-4) and Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers: Family Support (CFDA Number 84.133B-8). State and local governments, public and private colleges and universities, nonprofits and for-profits are eligible; Funding: A $950,000 for 84.133E-4 and $875,000 award for 84.133B-8.
The deadline each year is normally in September. These grants improve services for individuals with disabilities. The needs of those who are deaf or hard of hearing will be addressed in 84.133E-4 and family support services by 84.133B-8. For the most recent solicitations: (CFDA Number 84.133E-4) and (CFDA Number 84.133B-8).
DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women provides about $4 million in funding through the Grants for Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations (CFDA Number: 16.889). The solicitation should be released early next calendar year. The grantees develop strategies targeted at youth victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking from the identified underserved populations, such as students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. You can get a jump start on the process by using last year’s guidance.
ED’s Office of Postsecondary Education provides about $1 million in funding through the annual Training for Real-Time Writers grants (CFDA Number: 84.116K). Colleges and universities (along with community groups) use these funds to train real-time writers to produce closed captioning for video programming. Partners provide post-graduation job placement for participants. The NOFA should be released in late February or March. Go to last year’s solicitation.
The guidance notes that Title II and Section 504 also apply to individuals with disabilities who are not students, such as family members and members of the public seeking information from, or access to, the services, programs, and activities of the public school. These individuals also have a right to effective communication, the guidance said. In addition to the joint guidance, ED posted a Frequently Asked Questions document.