The Chicago Community Trust and the Persons with
Disabilities Fund recently hosted a panel of federal legislators
and business and community leaders to discuss current Illinois
policy concerning people with disabilities, how it compares with
the rest of the nation and what measurable goals have been set for
The panel's report, the first of its kind, identifies
current challenges in community living, education and employment
and sets state goals for 2015. No other state has held this kind of
meeting, but not many other states have Illinois' poor track record
when it comes to disability policy.
"A lot of (individuals in the field) who are leaders in
Illinois and leaders locally are also leaders internationally,"
said Andy Imparato, president and CEO of the American Association
of People with Disabilities. "But Illinois is not a leader.
Illinois is behind on a lot of those things."
By grade 11, according to the report, only 14.5 percent of
students with disabilities who took the Prairie State Achievement
Exam (PSAE) met or exceeded Illinois State Board of Education
standards compared to 59.4 percent of their peers without
disabilities. Although federal law requires special education
students to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) by age 16,
76 percent of eligible students do not have a plan that meets the
specified criteria. At 5.8 percent, the percentage of Illinois
special education students in separate schools is nearly double the
national average of 3 percent. And these are just a few of the ways
Illinois falls short.
During the discussion, all the panelists agreed universal
design and classroom integration were necessary, not only for
independence and sufficient flexibility to succeed but for funding
as well. "It's about taking the 'special' out of education," said
Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary for Disability Employment
Policy with the U.S. Department of Labor. "When the budgets go, so
do the 'special issues.'"
Dr. Vinni Maria Hall, secretary of the Illinois State
Board of Education, said they are addressing the goals stated in
the group's report, despite the strain of budget cuts and delayed
funding. Some of the goals for 2015 in the report include
increasing the inclusion of students with disabilities in general
education classrooms and cutting the dropout rate of students with
disabilities in half.
Although no definite solutions or strategies were
mentioned, the tone of the meeting was hope, excitement and
"Across the nation there is no such need for this kind of
debate," said Tony Paulauski, executive director of The Arc of
Illinois. "Let's end this debate, and let's just move
Esther Han is a Chicago Parent intern.
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