Students who face the challenges of blindness, deafness, physical or intellectual disabilities have a team of advocates working to ensure they have the same opportunities to progress academically and socially as their fully abled peers. The Special Education department provides a variety of services to level the playing field for students challenged with disabilities.
The department offers a full array of services to help disabled students. These range from occupational/physical therapy, which provides equipment such as walkers for students with cerebral palsy, to Dyslexia Services, which assists dyslexic students to develop literacy skills. Students with auditory or speech impairments can receive therapy, assistive devices and the assistance of interpreters, not only for academic purposes but also for extracurricular programs such as sports, clubs and competitions.
Arlene Stein, director of the department’s Specialized Services team, says they do whatever it takes to reduce barriers to learning for disabled students. “There is nothing in the school curriculum that (a disabled) student cannot participate in,” Stein said. “It’s our job to make everything have equal access, so anything that a general education student who has their complete vision and hearing can participate in, our division works with our visually impaired and auditory-impaired students to make sure they also have access.”
The Specialized Services team and their professional peers in Special Education are solution-finders. They make sure schools apply the mandates of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Section 504 is the umbrella civil rights law covering persons who have physical or mental impairments that limit their ability to care for themselves, perform manual tasks, or who cannot walk, see, hear, speak, read, write or calculate math problems. Some 12,000 district students require one or more of the services administered by Specialized Services.
These include autism, activities of daily living, functional life skills, deaf education, speech therapy, transportation, vision assistance services, behavioral management, and assistive technology, hospital homebound and residential placement, where students receive instruction in settings such as shelters for runaways, drug abuse treatment centers or correctional facilities.
When it comes to meeting the special needs of disabled students, Stein says Dallas ISD’s Special Education department is a leader in the region. In addition to operating the Regional Day School for the Deaf, which serves students across Dallas County, the Deaf Education Department employs a small army of 130 professionals, including speech and language pathologists, communication specialists, sign language interpreters, deaf educators, counselors and educational diagnosticians. They go wherever the need exists, providing supportive services at students’ home schools when possible, or assigning itinerant staff to go to the children. As Stein says, they do whatever it takes to promote student success.