By JoAnna Barnes, LDA Board Member and Co-Chair of the Public Policy & Advocacy Committee
Your LDA leaders were on Capitol Hill on April 30th to tell Congress your concerns and share real-life stories about learning disabilities. LDA President Beth McGaw, LDA Public Policy & Advocacy Co-Chairs Monica McHale-Small and JoAnna Barnes, and former Board Member Bob Broudo traveled to Washington to join LDA Policy Director Myrna Mandlawitz for a day of meetings on Capitol Hill. The group met with congressional staff to introduce LDA’s current leaders and to share LDA’s legislative priorities. Additionally, Dr. McHale-Small was able to meet one-on-one with her representative, Chrissie Houlahan (D. PA.).
President McGaw notes, “LDA is the nation’s largest membership organization dedicated to learning disabilities, and we want those on Capitol Hill to know we are the voice of the lived experience of learning disabilities. LDA’s continuing advocacy efforts in Washington are guided through the work of LDA Policy Director Myrna Mandlawitz and supported by LDA members across the country.”
Ms. Mandlawitz arranged for LDA representatives to meet with senior staff members for key Senate Committees including the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee. They also met with senior staff for Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). LDA, whose national headquarters is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has long had a close relationship with Senator Casey. Senator Van Hollen is one of the sponsors of the IDEA Full Funding Act [link? https://ldaamerica.org/lda-applauds-bipartisan-bills-to-fully-fund-idea/ ] and has been a strong supporter of special education since his days as a House member.
LDA is unique among organizations focused on learning disabilities. Its members know first-hand what it is like to have a learning disability. Many are themselves individuals with learning disabilities or have a direct relationship to someone with a learning disability. Ms. McGaw observed, “The staff with whom we met appreciated hearing real-life examples of how the federal laws and policies affect individuals with learning disabilities. It is one thing to read a report on a program, but it is quite another to hear how that program changes someone’s life.”
A frequent topic at these meetings was the recently released General Accounting Office (GAO) Report on Special Education (see related article). Another frequent topic was the college admissions testing scandal. Staff were very interested to hear if this had made it more difficult for students with learning disabilities to get accommodations. Mr. Broudo noted, “It was very impressive how well-informed the staff are about laws and programs that affect those with learning disabilities, even those that don’t directly involve education. For example, at each meeting I brought up the First Step Act [link] and its requirement that all youth in the federal criminal justice system be screened for dyslexia. Every staffer was familiar with the Act and this requirement. Having such well-informed staffers made for very substantive discussions.”
Dr. McHale-Small had the exceptional opportunity to meet one-on-one with her representative, Chrissie Houlahan (D-PA). One of Representative Houlahan’s priorities is literacy, and Ms. McHale-Small is an expert in dyslexia and reading instruction. “Representative Houlahan is passionate and well-informed about literacy, and we had a very fruitful discussion. We also discussed learning disabilities, including dyslexia, as the underlying cause of some individuals’ difficulty learning to read.”
Ms. McGaw summed up the day, “It was a very successful day, due in no small part to these relationships Ms. Mandlawitz has nurtured on behalf of LDA. We came away very encouraged by how informed the staff are about LDA and learning disabilities. We also came away committed to involve more LDA members across the country in advocacy. All of the congressional staff made it clear Congress want to hear from our members.”