Advocacy can be a powerful way to build connections with others. At LDA, when we use the term “advocacy,” we are referring both to the ability to persuade other people to accept your point of view, and to the skills and approaches you need when you do research and preparation to support the argument you are presenting or “advocating.”

This issue of LDA Today, is focused on making equity accessible. As noted in the first segment of this issue, many individuals with learning disabilities are not able to access the services and supports they need to lead fulfilling, successful lives. Individuals of color are disproportionately represented among those who are faced with sometimes insurmountable barriers. Children of color are less likely to be identified with dyslexia and other learning disabilities and more frequently attend under-resourced schools that lack well trained teachers and evidence-based instructional interventions. Children of color and poor children are more likely than their white peers to live in places with higher exposure to environmental toxins such as lead and other air and water pollutants. Children in these communities are also less likely to have access to nutritious foods, health care and the quality early learning experiences that can help to mitigate the impact on environmental assaults on their neurodevelopment.

Advocacy is about taking action: taking action for yourself; taking action to represent the rights and interests of someone else; taking action to bring about change for groups of people by working to influence social, political, and economic systems; taking action to establish or protect legal rights through attorneys and the legal or administrative systems. In this segment of LDA Today, we will look at a few ways you can take action and advocate to help make equity accessible for yourself or for others. 

Identification and Evaluation

To effectively advocate for evaluation and identification, it can be important to do a little homework first. What is needed? Why are you asking for help or for an evaluation? 

Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and or reasoning.  As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency.  Learning disabilities result from impairments in one or more of the basic processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering or learning. These include, but are not limited to: language processing, phonological processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, memory, attention and executive functions…”   (Core Principles, LDA February 2018) Also, A Learning Disability must not be primarily due to visual, hearing or motor disability, intellectual disability, emotional or behavioral disability, cultural factors, environmental or economic factors, limited English proficiency and lack of adequate instruction. However, the presence of factors on this list does not preclude the existence of a learning disability. These statements become a little more important when thinking about the context of equity and cultural differences. 

Recently, Learning Ally hosted the webinar Life with Dyslexia: Education is a Right, Not a Privilege with  Dr. Tracy Johnson. Dr. Johnson shared her story of identification, including that most of our Black and brown children live in impoverished neighborhoods so “Dyslexia has been a rich man’s game”. When children are not identified or not eligible to receive services at school, many families do not have the resources for private evaluation or for tutoring to fill in skills they had not yet learned by the time they graduate from high school. 

As noted in the Research segment of this issue, Cooc (2017) found that, when teachers compared white students and students of color with similar academic and behavioral profiles, teachers were less likely to consider the difficulties experienced by students of color as potentially the result of a disability. In the Education segment of this issue, Dr. Scott noted that “it may be that a teacher does not have the cultural awareness to understand the communication a certain behavior was meant to serve”. These cultural differences and inequities are also contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline as Dr. Cynthia Stadel shared with LDA in our podcast episode Combating the School to Prison Pipeline

Action to Change these Outcomes

Teacher Resources & Evidence-Based Instruction

As a country, sadly, we very often give the least to the kids who need the most.

– Dr. John B. King, Jr 

As Dr. John King Jr, President and CEO of the Education Trust shared with Kristina Scott-Quinlan on the LDA Podcast Supporting Learning for All, “low-income students and students of color are less likely to get high quality early childhood education; they are less likely to get well prepared, effective teachers; they are less likely to get resources”. “Students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English learners, students with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups such as homeless students and students in foster care, were less likely to have rigorous, engaging, and positive educational experiences before the pandemic” (The Education Trust) and there is now significant concern that the COVID-19 pandemic will create even larger disparities than those we saw before school closures started in the United States this spring.  

Action to Change these Outcomes

  • Attend your local school board meeting to learn more about how district funds are allocated and how all students are ensured equitable access to quality teachers.
  • Share resources like the Guides & Booklets available on our website with teachers, school board members and/or legislators or those at The Educating All Learners Alliance.  
  • Learn more about how to advocate for equity with distance learning with resources like those developed by The Education Trust and those like “Creating Accessible Classrooms” at LDA’s COVID-19 Resource Center.
  • Vote for legislators and board members who are committed to ensuring equitable access to funding and resources to equip our teachers with the training and resources they need to build cultural competency and recognize learning disabilities in the classroom. 
  • Share information about the LDA annual conference. LDA is committed to monitoring and disseminating research findings related to recognition, assessment and intervention strategies throughout the lifespan. Our annual conference is one way teachers have access to that information as well as to a broader network of educators, parents and professionals. 

Environmental Assaults

A large and growing body of research has found that people of color and those living in poverty are exposed to higher levels of environmental pollution than Whites or people not living in poverty. (Life at the Fenceline, 2018

As we noted in the Research segment of this issue, “disproportionality literature consistently notes that children’s outcomes are causally affected by out-of-school factors such as poor nutrition, stress, and exposure to environmental toxins, and that exposure to these influences unduly affects poor children and children of color” (Gordon, 2017). Low-income families and people of color disproportionately rely on discount retailers like “dollar stores” for nutrition and household good (Life at the Fenceline, 2018). Many of the products at these stores contain harmful chemicals such as PFAS, BPA and Phthalates, all of which are known to be hazardous to brain development. 

Action to Change these Outcomes

  • Learn more about environmental toxins and how your favorite retailers rank for  toxin-free products. 
  • Learn more about Life at the Fenceline and share the information with your friends, colleagues and legislators.  
  • LDA’s Healthy Children Project works to ensure that all children are able to live and learn in environments free of toxins that cause learning disabilities and harm brain development. When you are a member of LDA, you advocate for healthier products for all children too!
  • Take action against toxins through the Healthy Children Project website
  • Vote for legislators who support healthy communities. 

Do you have suggestions or resources related to advocacy for making equity accessible? We’d love to hear from you!