Last Wednesday the Head of School (“President”) of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf (PSD), Peter Bailey, took several PSD students to Washington, D.C. to meet several members of Congress.
They were a part of the 14 Deaf schools and 10 blind schools who participated in Capitol Hill Advocacy Day — working with the *CEASD and the *NAD to advocate for the Cogswell/Macy Act (H.R. 1120).
The NAD released a very nice video of the interactions between the PSD group and the Congressmen/their staff. Link is below. I’ve reached out to PSD President Peter Bailey for an interview about this experience and about the bill. Here it is.
Alex: You recently went to Washington D.C. to take PSD students and staff to meet with Congressmen to advocate for the Cogswell and Macy Act (H.R. 1120). Can you tell us more about the act?
Peter: Hello, Daily Moth! I’m honored to be a part of this. I’m very glad to explain. CEASD have been very active in this. The purpose of this is to update the act — it has current standing as the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). The law has already been established, but there are some things that the law “misses.” You know, sometimes when an act is designed, it is somewhat superficial — there are no specific details — the act is general. As the years has gone by, we notice several missing things for it.
For example, we have Deaf, DeafBlind, Blind, Visually Impaired, Hard of Hearing — that group is called, “low incidence.” This group averages only 1% of the entire IDEA group, which is for students with disabilities. We are a very small group within that group.
So some of the things that IDEA covers — we are not represented in that. We as a group are overlooked, they didn’t think of us. We aren’t counted in data collection. They say we make up a certain percentage, but have not specifically counted us in their data. So we aren’t really a part of that process.
So our new act that we’ve proposed tries to “hit” the missing areas and make sure they include the missing information that we feel is important for our groups. That is why CEASD initiated this bill with the AFT — I mean AFB — the Blind group who wants to develop this. We’ve partnered up to make a stronger case that the IDEA needs to be updated. It has no impact on the funding, it is already there — but there needs to be more specifications in the act.
That’s why it is called H.R. 1120 — it was H.R. 3535 last year. You know, once you introduce an act but if it lies stagnant with no action, you have to introduce a new bill the next year with a different number. So we have the H.R. 1120.
The purpose of this proposal is to get more support from Senators. We have many House Representatives who support this, but not enough from Senators. So that’s why we did the advocacy day where came in various groups to ask Senators for their support.
Alex: PSD students were involved in the advocacy efforts. From your point of view, what was that experience like for the students and for the Congressmen?
Peter: This trip was really an eye-opening experience for our students. I’ve done this before but the students never went on a trip to D.C. They never saw Gallaudet University. It was a part of their tour — you know, when you visit D.C., you’ve got to take the opportunity to go to both places! So we visited Gallaudet and the students were amazed at the history and at the university itself. When they went to the Capitol Hill, they were in awe and nervous, they didn’t know what to expect. I told them that the Senators loved students — they didn’t care about the adults. They love children! So when we went in, the students enjoyed meeting people.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to meet Senators on that day. Oftentimes when we visit Capitol Hill, we make an appointment with their education staff. Sometimes we are lucky to have a Senator available. We did get to meet with two Senators. We had schedules for a total of 8 meetings -- we represent the state of Pennsylvania, so all of the Pennsylvania entities went. We at PSD, WPSD (Deaf) and WPSB (Blind), and Overbook Blind School here in Philadelphia. The four of us worked together along with PSAD — I believe it is the Pennsylvania Society for the Advancement of the Deaf — it is like a local NAD state chapter.
So we all came together and split up. We had the opportunity to visit two Senators’ offices. That’s where we were filmed in the NAD video, we were with the NAD group. Video: [http://bit.ly/2mGjxJd]
We met with two Senators, one Republican and one Democrat: Toomey and Casey. For Sen. Toomey, we only met with his education staff. We explained about that act and they said they were aware of it.
Next, we met with Sen. Casey — and this had more impact because he was “asked” to replace Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa) — who has long advocated for Deaf people. When he retired, he “asked” Sen. Casey to advocate for Deaf people — disabled people.
So, we have those relationships. Sen. Casey happened to be in the hallway. We yelled and he was able to meet with our students and take pictures. He departed and we met with his education staff.
Again, at the end of the day, the students said the experience was rich. I would encourage other students to have the opportunity to go to D.C. again. On the next trip I will take the students to Harrisburg, PA — the state capitol. I hope to meet our state representatives.
Alex: What do you hope will happen going forward with the HR 1120 act?
Peter: After we left, there were many meetings and many contacts from various states. We hope to get more Senators to sponsor this bill. Once we have more sponsors and it passes both chambers, it will become effective, the act will be effective. CEASD will keep us updated — I don’t know what is the status of the bill since I left. CEASD will maintain contact with them. My understanding is that it is looking good for us, since it is our second year going and advocating for the bill. If it doesn't work, we will go again next year.
Now, for our state, we hope to meet state representatives and advocate for the bill and allow them to contact the U.S./Federal level. You know, it’s different on the state/federal levels. We hope to keep those connections. We have a strong relationship with local government, so we are pushing on all sides to keep the momentum.
Alex: Any additional thoughts or comments you want to share?
Peter: I think that this kind of effort — I hope all the Deaf schools in the country works together because we are fighting for one act. It defines everything that we are now facing, all the Deaf schools. We have various challenges, student enrollment, but this act could make the difference in each school. Once this passes as law, we can hold all school districts accountable for the success of our students in our country. That is what I’m looking forward to now.
—— End Interview ——
I appreciate Peter’s time and sharing his experience.
Here’s some more details about the bill, which was named after Alice Cogswell, the first Deaf student to get a formal education in the U.S. and Anne Sullivan Macy, who was the teacher for Helen Keller.
The bill asks for all deaf, hard of hearing, blind, visually impaired, and deaf-blind children to be properly counted and served, for there to be a proper evaluation of their learning needs, ensure states and districts have a plan to meet each child’s needs, that the U.S. Dept. of Education will hold the schools accountable, have qualified staff to serve them, and deaf-blind students get trained and qualified interveners.
The full text of the bill is linked below.
*(Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools & Programs for the Deaf) [http://ceasd.org/child-first/alice-cogswell]
*(National Association of the Deaf). The NAD posted a nice video of the trip [http://bit.ly/2mGjxJd].
Bill Text: http://bit.ly/2n7cvL5