Hey, Special Needs Moms! You Complain Too Much!
Really, you do. I mean, c’mon already. Aren’t you tired of all the complaining? I am.
No, really, I am.
Special needs moms, dads — anyone who is closely connected to the special needs community — we all complain too much.
Did you know that most of the laws in place to protect people with disabilities are complaint based? They are. Take a look.
Laws that protect people with disabilities
IDEA — Of course you’ve all heard of this one, the law that provides our kids with a “free and appropriate education.” But guess what? Think about it; there’s no oversight. Sure, states have compliance monitoring set up, but that only checks for administrative details (e.g., did they give you the IEP meeting invitation 10 days prior to the meeting?). It does nothing to check outcomes of children with disabilities (graduation rates, job placement). It does nothing to check on quality or effectiveness of programming. The only way IDEA ever gets tested is when a parent files for Due Process and takes the school to the hearing. Other than that, no system of checks and balances. Complaint based. If a parent doesn’t complain, status quo remains.
ADA — Ah, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Because of this, our country is so much easier to navigate, isn’t it? Except when it’s not. And if it’s not, well, you just have to file a complaint. But even then, if the business can show that the changes you are asking for are not “readily achievable" then they are off the hook for making the change.
ADA/504 — These two laws are the commonly cited laws when parents file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights. That’s right, it’s simple. If your school is not accommodating your disabled child, all you have to do is complain to the Office of Civil Rights. And hope that they choose to investigate your complaint. They may not. Which, likely, will cause you to complain more.
Fair Housing Act — This is the law that says that landlords are not to discriminate against people with disabilities. It also outlines things that landlords must do to accommodate people. Feel you are being discriminated against? Is your landlord trying to get rid of you because your child has autism? Ok, then, all you need to do is — yep, you guessed it — file a complaint with HUD. And if you’re lucky, you case will be investigated in under 100 days so that you aren’t homeless.
Insurance — There are all kinds of laws in place to regulate insurance companies. But, if you feel you’ve been wronged, just go ahead and file a complaint with your state’s office of the Attorney General.
Ok, by now you’re reading these and saying, “Ok, ok, I get it. But why don’t we just vote more to get things changed?”
Fantastic idea! That’s it! Let’s all band together, form large disability voting coalitions and vote for what we want. It would likely be successful, except that many of our folks might not be able to get to the polls.
The National Voter Registration Act and The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 are both, yes, complaint based. They are designed to protect disabled individuals’ rights to vote but are only enforced when (sigh) someone complains about it not being accessible.
Being banned from a plane due to your disability? Then you have to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
So if it feels like we’re always complaining, we are. Other than activist groups and things like that, there are no watchdogs for us. We are our own watchdogs. It’s up to us to monitor these systems.
To read more about any of the laws listed above, including information on how to file all of the various complaints, read A Guide to Disability Rights Laws.
Wrapping up, hey, there are no easy answers. In this election season, there are millions of people screaming for less government. So developing a whole level of the system to monitor the existing systems is probably too much to ask. But then again, is it too much to ask someone to just do their job so that we don’t have to complain as much?
Lisa Lightner is a Chester County, PA mom of two. This post was adapted from the blog A Day in Our Shoes, which she co-authors. It provides support, resources and advocacy services for parents of children with special needs.