While I didn’t hear the word ableism until I was in college, I remember there were many times in middle and high school where I would notice people around me that had their own ideas of what a student with an IEP should do and how they should act, rejecting or shunning students who do not fit this stereotype. Alternatively, these people would try to imply that these students who deviated from what was expected were actually faking or greatly exaggerating their disabilities, which lead to myths about IEP students being perpetuated even further. Here are seven myths about IEP students that I saw perpetuated in my school, with my own perspective on why these things aren’t true.
When people first think of special education services, they often imagine a self-contained classroom that students with disabilities sit in all day, where they only interact with other students that have disabilities and take modified classes. While this is the case for some students, a major component of IEPs is that students are placed in the least restrictive environment for learning, which means that IEP students should be included with other students as much as possible. The majority of students with IEPs, especially those with print disabilities, will spend all or part of their day in the general education/mainstream classroom, interacting with their peers and learning the same material.
When I started receiving IEP services in 8th grade, there was a lot of discussion about which of the thirteen categories should be listed for me to receive services, as they were unsure what to select for a student with low vision that had no other health issues (at the time). My friends in other parts of the United States said that they had the same experiences with people not knowing what to select for a low vision student, and their IEPs were listed under categories such as Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, and Multiple Disabilities. However, there is actually a category that fits my educational needs perfectly, and it’s the one that was finally selected for my IEP – Visual Impairment, Including Blindness.
While the IEP is a legal document that is protected by federal law, it doesn’t mean that it will always be followed perfectly, or that accommodations will be consistently implemented. In some cases, teachers may choose to ignore the IEP entirely, leaving students vulnerable to experiences involving academic ableism. This isn’t to say that having an IEP is pointless, but rather to show that it is important that students practice self-advocacy and learn for themselves how they receive accommodations.
Some staff members will insist that students who are gifted or who make high grades do not qualify for IEPs, as they are doing well in school – this was the case for me until I failed a math class due to not receiving large print or accessible materials in the classroom. The reverse can also be true, where IEP students are not expected to be gifted or get high grades, solely because they have a disability. When accommodations are followed, IEP students can absolutely make high grades, be on the honor roll, and take advanced classes, as IEPs are designed to help students to reach their highest potential.
Case managers have several students on their caseload, so they do not follow individual students around and check to see if their accommodations are being implemented or if a student remembered to turn in their homework. While I knew where to find my case manager if I needed them, they rarely showed up in my classes or otherwise made their presence known to other students, and my teachers didn’t talk to them unless there was a problem with implementing accommodations or if they were asked an IEP-related question.
Colleges will not know that a student has an IEP unless the student discloses it themselves, and having an IEP does not affect the college decisions process or the application process in any way. IEPs expire the moment a student graduates from high school, so the accommodations will not automatically be implemented when a student goes to college. If students wish to continue to receive accommodations in college, they will need to get a Disability Services file.
By law, teachers and school staff keep IEP information confidential, so they cannot discuss details of accommodations or even confirm if a given student has an IEP with other students or unauthorized staff. Again, no one will know that a student has an IEP unless the student discloses it themselves, though some students may notice that a student receives accommodations that are obvious, such as large print.
In many of my classes, students often noticed that I used large print, but it was rare for the majority of my classmates to make a comment about it outside of asking why I receive it, and what small print looks like to me. Even when I did a mentorship at an elementary school, most students didn’t notice or comment on how I use large print as it was easier for everyone to read.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published November 2017.
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