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Basic Rights for Students with Disabilities

The Individuals With Disabilities Act, as amended by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA or IDEIA), provides that each child with a disability is entitled to a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.  Blind and visually impaired pupils without other disabilities generally attend regular classes in their home schools, though an itinerant vision teacher or orientation and mobility trainer may work with them  They are entitled to certain accommodations.  These may include extended time and the use of dictation for tests, note takers, use of computers and other assistive technology, enlarged print and, if necessary, instructional aids.  An Individual Education Program (IEP) will be prepared for the student annually at a spring meeting in which teachers, representatives from the school system’s vision program, school counselors and administrators, the student’s parents and, for older students, the student participate.  The IEP will set forth goals and accommodations for the student for the upcoming academic year.  Private schools are not subject to IDEA or IDEIA and the extent to which they offer assistance and the types of accommodations they provide may vary significantly.  Information should be obtained from the pupil’s DC or county school system for public schools and from the individual school for private schools.  Information about services offered by the DC Public Schools’ Office of Special Education can be found by calling (202) 442-4800 or by visiting the web site at:

Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations are available for standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, AP and GRE exams.  These must be requested from the organization responsible for the test and should generally be sought at least two months prior to the desired testing date.  Once approved, the accommodations usually remain in place for as long as the student stays at the same school the student was attending at the time the accommodations were sought.  Information about ACT accommodations can be found by calling (319) 337-1332 or by visiting the web site at:
Information about SAT, AP and GRE accommodations can be found by calling (866) 387-8602 or (609) 771-7780 or by visiting the web site at:

Information and Scholarships for College Students

Accommodations and assistance offered by colleges and universities vary greatly.  Most institutions have an office providing services for students with disabilities.  It is useful to contact the disabilities office of each school in which you are interested before applying or visiting to see if it offers the supports you desire.

"College Bound: A Guide for Students With Visual Impairments" by Ellen Trief, helps students prepare for their new life in college, develop useful skills, and negotiate for and coordinate appropriate services.

The following are some of the scholarships available to students who are blind or visually impaired:

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Scholarships

American Council of the Blind (ACB) Scholarship Program

The Fred Scheigert Scholarship

National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Scholarship Program

Lighthouse Guild Scholarships for Visually Impaired Students

The Lavelle - Brother Kearney Scholarship Program

Discharge of federal student loan debt is available to borrowers who are disabled and unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity(employment) because of a physical or mental impairment.  If you have received a notice of award for SSDI or SSA you can submit this to the Department of Education (DoE) to review.  Your physician can submit a certified form stating that you are totally and permanently disabled.  If you are a veteran, the Veterans Affairs office can provide documentation to you that you are unemployable due to a service related injury.  If approved, your lenders will be contacted by the DoE with instructions that your loans are being discharged, and also to return any money paid by you on your student loans from when your disability began.  You can no longer apply for student loans unless you obtain a letter from a physician that you are now able to engage in gainful activity, as well as signing a statement acknowledging that your new student loans cannot be discharged again based on any illness you had prior to taking out the new loans.  The balance of your loans that are discharged are reported to the IRS as taxable income on the year they are discharged as long as the amount is over $600.  For more information, visit the web site at: