AFB-DirectConnect Newsletter, Published 9/18/2015

**ALERT!--Cogswell-Macy Bill Introduced!
Comprehensive Special Education Legislation for
Blind/Visually Impaired, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and Deafblind Students

H.R. 3535: The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act

** "Our students will thrive - with Thirty-five Thirty-five!"

For further information, contact:

Mark Richert, Esq.
Director, Public Policy, AFB
(202) 469-6833

Dear colleagues, friends and fellow advocates for students with disabilities:

Yesterday, following impressive, dedicated advocacy across the sensory impairments communities, the most comprehensive legislation to enhance and reform America's special education system for students with vision/hearing disabilities and deafblindness has been introduced. H.R. 3535, the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, once enacted, will ensure that: every child who is deaf, every child who is blind, and every child who is deafblind, regardless of whether they have additional disabilities, will be properly counted and served; each of a child's unique learning needs will be properly evaluated; states will engage in strategic planning to be sure that they can in fact meet each child's specialized needs; the U.S. Department of Education will do its part to hold states and schools accountable; students with sensory disabilities will be served by qualified personnel; and students who are blind will receive state-of-the-art services and skills supported through a new major national collaborative initiative addressing their unique learning needs.

Introduced by Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and David McKinley (R-WV), H.R. 3535 is named for Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller's beloved teacher; and Alice Cogswell, the first deaf girl to be educated in a school for the deaf in the United States. Originally introduced in the previous Congress as H.R. 4040, this updated version of the Cogswell-Macy Act includes additional language to support students who are deafblind. Advocates for students who are blind/visually impaired, deaf/hard-of-hearing, and deafblind have worked tirelessly with legislators to compose three strong, parallel titles within the Act, addressing the needs of students in these three sensory-disability areas.

Read below for the press release from Rep. Cartwright's office, and read the complete text of the Cogswell-Macy Act on the AFB Policy Center website.

Advocates are urged to contact your member of the U.S. House of Representatives to ask him/her to cosponsor H.R. 3535 today! (Learn how at Tell your Representative that by doing so, he/she will be helping to make history by ensuring that America's special education system is worthy of the enormous potential of every child who is blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deafblind. This year, 2015, is the 40th anniversary of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Tell your Representative that by joining in this campaign, they will help us transform a forty-year-old system from one that has broken down barriers into a system that finally ensures that kids with sensory disabilities will receiving the education and supports they need to thrive in our nation's classrooms!

Advocates should stay tuned to this newsletter and to for more information and regular updates as the Cogswell-Macy Act progresses. Thank you for your advocacy for children and youth with sensory disabilities!

Feel free to link to or share this Press Release, which is posted online at Rep. Cartwright's office has posted this release at the following link:

Reps. Cartwright, McKinley Champion Comprehensive Bipartisan Legislation to Transform Special Education for Students with Sensory Disabilities

Washington, DC – Today U.S. Congressmen Matt Cartwright (D-PA, 17) and David McKinley (R-WV, 1) introduced the bipartisan Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (H.R. 3535), named for two pioneers in the education of deaf and blind students. This landmark legislation would dramatically improve educational results for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, or deafblind.

In 1975, Congress enacted America's federal special education law known today as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Cogswell-Macy Act would amend and modernize IDEA to address the largely unmet unique needs of students with sensory disabilities. The bill would: ensure that students with vision and/or hearing disabilities are properly identified, evaluated and served, especially when they may have additional disabilities; guarantee that students with sensory disabilities are provided with the full array of special education and related services they must have to truly receive a free and appropriate public education; promote and support teachers and associated professionals who are critical to the delivery of such services; and hold all levels of our public education system accountable for these expectations.

“Upwards of 350,000 students are deaf or hard of hearing, and an estimated 100,000 have blindness or vision loss. Yet less than one-third of those students are reported as having those needs under IDEA. That is completely unacceptable,” Rep. Cartwright said. “This legislation would ensure that students who are deaf, hard of hearing blind, visually impaired, or deaf-blind receive an equal and appropriate education and have access to vital services. I look forward to working with my colleagues to guarantee that all children can succeed and achieve their potential.”

“Americans have made great strides since 1975 toward improving the lives of children dealing with hearing and sight disabilities but there is still more work to be done. We need to ensure the nearly-half a million kids with these disabilities have the same opportunity as other children to learn and develop skills. This is a common sense step to ensure we are helping these children,” Rep. McKinley said.

The American Foundation for the Blind and Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf have endorsed the Cogswell-Macy Act, along with more than 100 other leading national, regional and community-based organizations.

“The introduction of this bill represents a momentous step toward the transformation of this country’s special education system in a manner that will truly allow for students who are blind or visually impaired to succeed in a twenty-first century classroom.” said Kim Charlson, president of the American Council of the Blind (ACB). "The Cogswell-Macy Act is the most significant national proposal to improve education for students who are deafblind we've seen in decades," said Mussie Gebre, President of the national consumer advocacy group, DeafBlind Citizens in Action (DBCA). "When America's deafblind children and youth have their unique communications and learning needs fully met, are provided with essential supports such as intervener services, and are empowered by our national education system to rise to their full potential, well then just you look out because they're on their way to achieve great things. Just watch us and see for yourself!"

"Our national special education law has been a success at getting kids with disabilities into their neighborhood schools, but what we haven't done yet is to make sure that students with vision loss get the education they deserve once they get in the schoolhouse door," said Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for the Blind. "We've waited forty years, and we're not waiting another forty to give kids who are blind or visually impaired an education that is worthy of their tremendous potential. That's why the Cogswell-Macy Act is imperative."

"We expect that the passage of the Cogswell-Macy Act will rectify years of misapplication of IDEA for deaf and hard of hearing children everywhere. Deaf and hard of hearing children continue to experience language and academic delays because their educational environments are not optimal or even conducive to their learning," said James E. Tucker, Superintendent of the Maryland School for the Deaf and President of the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf. "Every student's Individualized Education Program needs to be student-driven and focused on the child's language, cognitive, and social development."

NAD President Chris Wagner stated “Every deaf or hard of hearing child deserves access to a quality education, and this Act will be an important step towards reminding states of their accountability regarding deaf, hard of hearing, blind, deafblind, and visually impaired children’s needs.”

Rep. Matt Cartwright represents Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District, which includes Schuylkill County and portions of Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, and Northampton Counties. Cartwright serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.