After having a Student Assistance Plan and 504 Plan in middle school, I went back to having an Individualized Education Program (IEP) in high school, which I had previously had in elementary school for low vision. As part of having an IEP, I also had a case manager that would work with my teachers and coordinate instructional services and other services related to special education. Since I didn’t have a case manager in middle school, I wasn’t sure what to expect from having an IEP case manager in high school, and as a result often had unrealistic expectations for how I expected them to help me with navigating disability services in the classroom. Here are five things I learned about my case manager that they didn’t tell me, and tips for how students with IEPs can more effectively utilize services from their case manager.
You won’t get the best assistive technology
From a legal standpoint, schools are required to provide students with assistive technology if they have a demonstrated need for it, with assistive technology being defined as any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities. However, this doesn’t mean that the assistive technology has to be new, high-tech, or even easy to use.
One of the stories I told in a video called “What I Wish I Learned About Assistive Technology Before Starting College” was about a desktop video magnifier I used during my junior year of high school. I nicknamed it “The Dinosaur” because it was an older machine whose display often flickered and couldn’t be used in any of my classes due to its bulky size and the fact it needed a constant power source. Even though I found it frustrating to use, it served its purpose in enlarging paper copies of assignments and allowing me to more easily write on math worksheets, and developing skills on “The Dinosaur” helped me be prepared for using the fancier video magnifiers and CCTVs at my college.
I recognize that assistive technology often receives limited funding within schools, though students, teachers, and families may have additional options for getting different assistive technology devices. Some options I’ve used or helped others use include:
- Having a case file with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired or similar state program for students with disabilities
- Enrolling in vocational rehabilitation services (some places may restrict this to people over 18)
- Purchasing refurbished or recycled devices
- Requesting mainstream or specialty technology for students with disabilities on DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that helps teachers get access to products for their classroom
- My Talk At A Future Date: What I Wish I Learned About AT Before Starting College
- Seven Benefits of Having a Case With State Departments for Vision Impairment
- 20+ Visual Impairment Project Ideas For DonorsChoose
- Five Myths About Assistive Technology
They can’t go after teachers
I experienced several instances of academic ableism and teachers not following my IEP, and remember asking my case manager why they “couldn’t just yell at the teachers and tell them to follow my IEP?” I thought my case manager would share my frustration in not having assignments enlarged or being sent out of the classroom, but their response was that yelling at the teachers wouldn’t actually change anything.
My mom helped me realize that the reason why my case manager couldn’t go after teachers or yell at them for not following my IEP is because they have to work with these people every day, and they will be working with them long after I have graduated and my IEP is expired. While my case manager agreed that it was frustrating for me to not receive accessible assignments, ultimately the best way of dealing with these situations would be learning to self-advocate and creating a student-centered approach that involved me learning to solve classroom accessibility issues on my own.
- I Don’t Need An IEP!
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
- How To Create A Disability Services File
- Having An Undiagnosed Chronic Illness In High School
A lot of things go on behind the scenes
In one of these instances of academic ableism and teachers not following my IEP, I was in my case manager’s office almost every class period asking them to help me with making content accessible and asking why I couldn’t transfer to a new class where I would receive accessible materials. This went on for over a month and I felt like my case manager had no idea how frustrating things were, but what I didn’t know is that they were working with my guidance counselor and other staff to secure permission to transfer me to a virtual class at the semester mark and couldn’t tell me anything until they received approval. After I told my case manager one day that all I wanted for my birthday was to transfer out of this class, they surprised me on my actual birthday (which was around the semester mark) with the news that I would be transferring to a new class.
- Tips For Handling Academic Ableism In The Classroom
- How To Be An Active Bystander For Academic Ableism
- My Experience With Virtual Classes in High School
- How To Transfer To A Virtual Class Mid-Year
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
There are lots of community resources for disability/assistive technology
I was the only student in my area identified with low vision, and case managers often cover a broad range of disabilities, so most of my case managers weren’t very familiar with state and community resources for disability and assistive technology. My family and I actually learned about a lot of resources for high school students with low vision after I graduated, and I created Veronica With Four Eyes to share what I have learned with others as well.
Some community resources for disability/assistive technology that can benefit students and their families include:
- Short term programs hosted by the state school for the blind- participants often do not need to be enrolled at the school to take advantage of these programs
- State Protection and Advocacy organizations that provide pro bono advocates and legal support for people with disabilities. In Virginia, this organization is the Disability Law Center of Virginia
- Programs hosted by the state department for the blind or rehabilitation services
- Accessibility and assistive technology services available at public libraries
- College and university programs for disability and assistive technology
- Local advocacy and support organizations for various disabilities
- Online blogs and social media groups
- Seven Myths About Schools For The Blind
- All About The Disability Law Center of Virginia
- Vocational Rehabilitation for Students With Vision Impairments
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
They want you not to need them
At times, I felt like my case manager went out of their way to make sure they weren’t there when I needed them, and there were many instances where things would have been much easier if they stepped in. However, having my case manager step in to solve issues would not help me with achieving my IEP goal of learning to self-advocate and developing strategies for solving problems on my own. Ultimately, my case manager, my parents, and my teacher of the visually impaired would not be going to college with me, so I needed to practice solving accessibility issues on my own in the high school environment if I wanted to prepare for college transition and independent living.
- Learning to Self-Advocate
- Ten Lessons My TVI Taught Me
- Five Myths About Print Disabilities
- Ways To Practice Self-Advocacy In The Virtual Classroom
- What If I Have To Report Disability Accommodation Violations?
Other things my IEP case manager didn’t tell me
- I was going to be held to a higher standard than other students because I had an IEP. For example, if I didn’t do my homework, some teachers would mention this to my case manager and say that if they were going to take the time to enlarge my assignments, the least I could do is complete them. As unfair as this was, this experience did show me that I needed to take my schoolwork seriously
- How to talk about my low vision/disability. While case managers help with the accommodations process, students will need to learn more about their diagnosis and how it affects them on their own or with the help of parents.
- Strategies for disability accommodations outside of the classroom. Navigating other school environments and events was not something they really talked to me about, so I had to figure out strategies for inclusion at school events, extracurriculars, and other activities