From “parent advocate” to “partner”: How your role changes with high school graduation

Support your student’s growing independence and transition from IDEA to ADA.

Part of the College Readiness Resource Center, by College Success @ Perkins

By: College Success @ Perkins

Throughout elementary and secondary education, our students with visual impairments have been entitled to the protections and services under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). As a parent or guardian, you’ve had a lead role in advocating for, and supporting, your student in their education.  This role will evolve as your student transitions from high school to either college, work or community engagement. Your role and support, and protections for your student, will change distinctly once your student graduates from high school and enrolls in college, which operates under different federal legislation: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s essential that you work to understand the differences, and learn how you can support your student to be prepared for this transition and to build the skills needed to meet the demands for independence and self advocacy expected in higher education and the workplace.

For the duration of their K-12 education, your student was provided accommodations, and when necessary, modifications in their classroom environment to allow them to effectively move through the curriculum. The IDEA ensured that your student had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), through which their present performance levels were examined, achievable goals were established, and the proper supports and services were implemented — a special education teacher, teacher of students with visual impairments, a certified orientation and mobility specialist, and maybe additional therapists (occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, paraprofessionals). 

As a parent, you had the opportunity to play an integral role in the IEP process and team. Your role as an advocate for your student has likely been ongoing. In most cases, you had the comfort of knowing that your student was supported by service providers and special educators throughout the year. You most likely established strong communication channels with your son or daughter’s service providers. If there was a question about progress or challenges in the classroom, a solution and a change may have been just a phone call away.   

Understand how your role as parent evolves as your student transitions from IDEA to ADA.

As your student begins to develop plans for their lives after high school, your role as an advocate needs to evolve as well. Self-advocacy will fall into the hands of your student, and as the parent, you’ll be playing the role of a partner as your student matures and moves to greater autonomy. While changing your role can be difficult, it’s a natural part of your student’s journey toward independence. As students make increasingly independent decisions, and learn from their mistakes, they develop the crucial self-awareness, resilience and self-confidence which all lead to greater motivation and improved decision making. The familiar safety net of support and guidance from teachers and TVIs will no longer exist after high school. Giving your student ample time to develop these skills is an important step as a parent. It’s critical that they have a long “on ramp” to the thrills, and challenges, of independence.  

Academics, and life, in college and the workplace, will demand that your student has skills to manage decisions, information, and to self-advocate. For example, requesting and obtaining accessible materials – braille, digital or large print textbooks, worksheets, digital versions of inaccessible print materials – will be your student’s responsibility to both request, and to use independently; there are no TVI’s in college!  By the time a student is a senior in high school, shifting the responsibility of the student’s educational success from your hands and the hands of the entire IEP team, into your student’s own, must be well underway.  

There are many ways that you, as the parent, can begin to prepare yourself and your son or daughter for this shift in responsibility. Here are a few ways to foster a smoother transition, starting as early as middle school: 

Get familiar with the laws, together

To understand the difference between the services and accommodations your student has received up until this point and the services they’ll be able to access from now on, you have to know the laws that direct how services are requested, and delivered. Under the IDEA, services are robust and provided to you and your student. They are largely directed and organized by the IEP team and service providers, to ensure successful completion of the K-12 education to which every student is entitled. Under the ADA, once in college, your son or daughter will be the one responsible for speaking up and attaining the necessary accommodations or services. Your student will need to get familiar with the functions of the college Disability Services Office (DSO) and understand the process of applying to and requesting accommodations.   

If your student is struggling with taking on more responsibility, talk with their team in high school.

We know that, often, students with visual impairments mature and learn more slowly than their typically sighted peers, due to the loss of incidental learning over time. In this case, allowing your student more time – to gain the maturity needed to self-advocate, tolerate feedback, and act to achieve their personal goals – may be crucial for future success. Check out this article on the many ways to support your student’s growth into adulthood. Through training programs, thoughtful gap year strategies, and a slower onboarding to college and a career, your student can continue to grow their independence and explore next steps in education and career. Taking things more slowly allows space to build interests, knowledge, and plans for what to do with them! 


For some of our students, there may be benefits to pausing. Accurately assess their current skills, including self awareness and self-advocacy, and develop a plan to strengthen these FIRST in high school – and even after – through planned programs and experiences. Many students benefit from extra time and self awareness before starting college.  And studies indicate that students who take a gap year are more likely to complete their program or degree. Gap years are not just for adventure or other travel; it’s intentional time set aside for growth, skill development and exploration. 

Now that you have an understanding of the changes from high school to college, it’s important to start thinking about how you and your student can work together to prepare for this change. The next piece, Parents: Get ready to hand over the reins to your student” will walk you through the next steps.

Stay in the college readiness conversation.

Our team is committed to changing the way students with blindness and visual impairment prepare for life after high school. Stay up to date about the latest insight, research and resources.

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