Access to Communication is a Human Right4 min read

In July, stu­dents at Reach Every Voice Summer Institute spent a week lear‎ning about advo­cacy and col­lab­o­rating to advo­cate for a cause that gets them fired up. In this article, Nathan, Srija, and Cade advo­cate for com­mu­ni­ca­tion access and rep­re­sen­ta­tion at IEP meet­ings.

Nathan

Can you imagine never being able to speak in school? Well, I spent years of my life con­stantly aware that I could under­stand every­thing said but could not get my mouth to say it. Hearing learning, crying for com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and finding habits that passed the day was how I made it through third grade.

Fortunately, in fourth grade I had a teacher who thought I could learn to type my thoughts. Until then my edu­ca­tion con­sisted of money counting, symbol seeing, and com­plete chaos.

When I actu­ally had a way to com­mu­ni­cate my thoughts, school changed.

My teachers chal­lenged me and the chaos sub­sided. Now I’m going into sev­enth grade, and I can’t imagine how dif­ferent my life would be if I did not have access to my simple key­board and aide. My story has a good ending, but many bud­dies’ sto­ries do not. Being denied access to their com­mu­ni­ca­tion, sit­ting and wasting time in classes babies would find boring, and con­stantly feeling muz­zled is their lot.

I’m going to pass the mic to two of those stu­dents. Read their words and tell me why they deserve any­thing worse than a real edu­ca­tion. 

Srija

I am Srija. I am eigh­teen years old. At present time I do not have any mode of com­mu­ni­ca­tion at school. Typing to com­mu­ni­cate is my only hope, and for other kids like me as well.

Everything needs prac­tice, and we have seen kids in a pilot pro­gram have flour­ished. So I need an oppor­tu­nity. Typing to com­mu­ni­cate gives me hope, makes me feel pow­erful and calm. It will give me basic dig­nity in life.

Cade

I am Cade. I have been a stu­dent in MCPS for my whole life. Now that I have a new and reli­able way to com­mu­ni­cate, I would love to be able to use it to make deci­sions and par­tic­i­pate in my edu­ca­tion. At eigh­teen, I don’t need a room full of adults talking about me and my intel­li­gence every year while I am pan­icking without a voice in the back of the room. Please allow me the oppor­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate as more than a silent, flap­ping audi­ence member. 

According to US Code § 1414 (Evaluations, eli­gi­bility deter­mi­na­tions, indi­vid­u­al­ized edu­ca­tion pro­grams, and edu­ca­tional place­ments), I should legally be an active part of my IEP meet­ings. According to the Code, an “IEP Team” should con­sist of who we (the stu­dents) want. Who we want includes us.

So, we want to be there, not just in person, but in voice, too. Being a part of those IEP meet­ings “when­ever appro­priate” means always when it comes to me and my friends with ASD who have a reli­able method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. 

By allowing us to have access to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, we will have the ability to prove how smart we really are. This will make a world of dif­fer­ence in how we behave at school, as Nathan shared in his opening para­graph.

Voices are dif­ferent all throughout the school system, so why are we being denied access to ours? We type to com­mu­ni­cate with the sup­port of trained CPs (com­mu­ni­ca­tion part­ners). At the very least, we would like to have autonomy in our IEP meet­ings.

At ages 18 and 14, our matu­rity is great enough that we should have a say in how and what we are doing at school. Our poten­tial to be career-ready is zero if we remain in the pro­grams we’re in now without access to a voice. 

It should be readily apparent by now that we three stu­dents are equally deserving of both a mean­ingful edu­ca­tion and access to reli­able com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees a right to free speech. The denial of the stu­dents’ method of com­mu­ni­ca­tion vio­lates their civil rights. Moreover, this oppres­sion of a mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­nity brings the ques­tion of human rights to the fore­front. We, at the very least, should have a voice in the deci­sion making processes that affect our entire edu­ca­tional lives. Please give us a choice to par­tic­i­pate in our own lives.

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Nathan is impo­litely going to rock your world about the brains of us autists.

Srija is an eighteen-year-old girl who is new to REV and is feeling empow­ered to com­mu­ni­cate among peers.

Cade is an 18-year-old autistic kid who found his voice on the let­ter­board.

Article orig­i­nally fea­tured on the Reach Every Voice web­site and repub­lished with per­mis­sion from the orga­ni­za­tion and the stu­dents. 

The Aspergian
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