IDEA at 40

 Speaking from the Volta Bureau Autumn banner

Emilio Alonso-Mendoza summerDear Alexander Graham Bell Community,

This being a milestone anniversary year, I’ve taken time to reflect on how fortunate AG Bell is to enjoy a legacy of innovation that began with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. He was an inventor, an innovative thinker and a man who in many ways was ahead of his time. It is said that Dr. Bell introduced the term “special education” in 1884. He believed that students with hearing loss could be educated in the mainstream.

Dr. Bell opened a kindergarten-grade school that accepted students with and without hearing loss. Although students who were deaf attended separate classes, all students socialized together at recess, including Dr. Bell’s two daughters. Dr. Bell’s idea, and then dream, became a reality 90 years later when IDEA opened wide the doors of inclusion in regular classrooms.

For years, typical children rode the school bus, but students with disabilities were not included. Many states had laws that specifically excluded students from public education who were deaf, blind, or had emotional or intellectual disabilities. For students with hearing loss, there was no such thing as statewide early intervention services to facilitate early language development.

Two kids with thumbs upToday, a White House event celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and highlighted the tremendous impact of the law as well as changes that need to be made to realize the full promise of inclusion. “We are seeing more efforts than ever to promote inclusion,” said Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education policy. “We also need to embrace opportunities for children with disabilities to have rewarding careers, by ensuring school districts provide every child with a quality public education and ensuring that children with disabilities have the opportunity to be full and equal participants in society.”

2015 LOFT ParticipantsWhen I see the young people who have participated in our Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) program, I see the tremendous impact of this landmark civil rights law. These teens have benefitted from early identification and amplification, and their families received the early intervention and support services that are needed to make advances during critical periods for developing listening and spoken language. They have excellent speech and language abilities and are able to easily converse with their peers in group conversations. They participate in a wide range of school activities from sports to debate to the arts. Many have truly exceled in school, earning straight As and taking a full load of Advanced Placement courses. LOFT teaches these students about IDEA and supports them in developing the advocacy skills they need to assert their rights under the law in requesting the accommodations in school, college and the workplace.

Parent Advocacy Training branded adAG Bell also supports parent advocacy. IDEA was born out of great efforts in advocacy by parents of children with disabilities, including children who are deaf and hard of hearing. AG Bell helps parents to understand and advocate for their child’s rights and to work collaboratively with school districts to develop Individualized Education Plans for their child. AG Bell offers the Parent Advocacy Training course, a web-based module available at no charge in both English and Spanish for parents to learn more about the law and develop effective advocacy strategies.

AG Bell has long advocated for improvements to the law so that children with hearing loss can fully benefit. One pressing challenge is full funding. AG Bell has urged federal government to live up to its promise of funding up to 40 percent of the cost of special education.

We also have our eyes on the horizon and are looking toward the reauthorization of the IDEA. To strengthen the law, AG Bell has published a position statement that calls for parents to be fully informed on choice of communication mode for their child. Every school district should be able to provide services in the parent’s chosen mode of communication, and listening and spoken language must be adequately supported.

Inclusion in school and society is now a reality for our children, thanks to Dr. Bell and the parent advocates who played a pivotal role in bringing IDEA into existence. Yet, every day we receive calls and letters that demonstrate that there is more to be done to meet the needs of our students. I hope that you will join me as we move forward into the future by making this law even better for our students as we continue to celebrate our many successes.

Until next week,


Emilio Alonso-Mendoza
[email protected]


They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
- Andy Warhol