Legal Services – Advocates
Advocates are professionals with specialized training in Special Education laws and procedures. The dictionary definition of an “advocate” is: a “person who speaks in favor; person who pleads for another.” This is precisely what advocates for persons with disabilities do—these professionals fight for their clients’ rights and well-being. This advocacy may be implemented in several ways, as will be discussed below. Advocates, also administer special education training through graduate-level courses, local or national workshops, and conferences.
Advocates may also serve families of children receiving special education services through public schools. A parent may enlist an advocate’s services for help in understanding and/or “navigating” the process of obtaining special education services for a child. For example: a parent may consider advocacy if a child’s problems have presented as motivational issues but the parent feels that there are underlying learning or other issues; if a child is continually acting out in school (i.e. misbehaving, skipping class, disrupting class, etc.); if IEP (Individualized Education Plan—see section on EDUCATIONAL SERVICES or the GLOSSARY for definition of this term) meetings are difficult to understand (i.e. medical or legal terms unfamiliar to the general public); or if the child is having difficulties passing grade levels and current methods appear not to be working. If a parent is unsatisfied with the child’s IEP or the child’s progress under that IEP, advocacy may be considered. The advocate may assist the parent and child in the following ways:
- Observe/evaluate the child; interview the parent(s)
- Teach the parent about special education laws, the child’s rights, and provide definitions for confusing terminology
- Examine the IEP to offer suggestions for improvement and identify procedural errors that may have adversely affected the child (and perhaps advise the parent to seek an attorney)
- Attend IEP meetings with the parent to address the child’s rights, participate in negotiation of evaluations/IEP placements, help the parent understand discussions, ask questions on the parent’s behalf, and take notes regarding the collaborative functioning of team members and events of the meeting.
- Help protect the child’s rights, per state and federal law (i.e. identifying the need for an attorney)
Advocates also work in other settings (i.e. psychiatric hospitals, regional centers). Overall, the goal of these professionals is to help individuals with developmental (present from birth/childhood) or acquired (occurring due to injury as opposed to genetics, birth trauma, etc.) disabilities to live fuller, more independent lives. Other examples of advocates’ duties include the following:
- Helping clients obtain basic healthcare or other types of personal care (i.e. Medical,
- Supplemental Security Income, etc.)
- Identifying/preventing abuse or neglect in institutions
- Obtaining technologically advanced therapeutic devices (i.e. computerized speech devices, etc.)
- Obtaining services needed for mental health treatment
- Obtaining appropriate special education evaluation/placement in public schools