Ed. Note: This is a guest post from the San Francisco Mayor's Office on Disability
The Obama Administration continues to find new, creative, and cost-effective ways to reach out to its constituents. One effort is to coordinate community roundtable discussions with Senior Administration Officials who already have trips scheduled to a region.
The Bay Area was the beneficiary of such a visit from Dr. Martha Kanter, Under Secretary for the U.S. Department of Education. On her way to give a commencement address in Hayward, Dr. Kanter stopped at the newly built and Universally Designed Ed Roberts Campus to speak with disability community leaders and education professionals.
The disability community faces some of the highest unemployment and underemployment rates of any demographic in the country. People with disabilities are disproportionately poor and from racial and ethnic minorities. Access to education is a key step to changing that picture.
Dr. Kanter, joined by Paul Grossman, Chief Regional Attorney for the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, reviewed a few of the many steps the Administration is taking to invest in education and minority communities, including the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, Investing in Innovation, and the Early Learning Fund.
The roundtable discussion touched on many of the issues the disability community faces, from re-integrating veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to people born with developmental disabilities who are never expected to be part of mainstream society.
The participants agreed that the challenge is two-fold: reaching people with disabilities but also educating society at large about disability issues. Some of the ideas generated at the roundtable to meet these challenges include:
- incorporating disability content in educational curriculums - beyond a chapter on Helen Keller in the 5th grade, and a section on FDR in the 7th;
- better academic accommodations and appropriate accommodations in private testing services for college and graduate schools;
- greater use of adaptive and assistive technologies;
- video training on disability sensitivity, rights, and accommodations with interactive content and exit exams for all recipients of federal funds; and
- a video campaign focusing on the economic successes of students with disabilities, similar to the “It Gets Better” campaign for youth in the LGBT communities.
The roundtable served as a wonderful opportunity to speak directly with high level administration officials and also to convene leaders within a region. Dr. Kanter was joined by the World Institute on Disability, Disability Rights Advocates, the Center for Accessible Technology, Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund, the Center for Independent Living and several other organizations. Leaders from academic communities also participated, including experts from the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco State University, the San Francisco Unified School District, and the San Francisco Mayor’s Office. We began important conversations, not only with Dr. Kanter and Mr. Grossman, but also with each other.
Susan Mizner is Director of the San Francisco Mayor's Office on Disability.