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Meeting the Communication Needs of Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities (OCR & DOJ)

The Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently released three documents that provide important information regarding the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities.

On November 12, 2014, ED and DOJ issued the following:

  1. A Dear Colleague letter concerning the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities. Also available in Spanish.
  2. A two page fact sheet regarding Meeting the Communication Needs of Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities. Also available in Spanish.
  3. A Frequently Asked Questions on Effective Communication for Students with Hearing, Vision, or Speech Disabilities in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools document explaining the responsibility of public schools to ensure that communication with students is effective for all students.

Sample Content from the Fact Sheet

What do Federal laws require of a public school to meet the communication needs of students with hearing, vision, or speech disabilities?

  • Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools must provide a student with a disability a free appropriate public education (FAPE) designed to provide meaningful educational benefit through an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
  • Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools must, without charge, ensure that communication with students with disabilities is as effective as communication with students without disabilities, giving primary consideration to students and parents in determining which auxiliary aids and services are necessary to provide such effective communication.

What can a parent do if the school won’t give a child what the parent thinks is needed?

  • Arrange to meet with the IEP or 504 team or the school’s Title II or 504 Coordinator.
  • Consider using the school district’s published disability grievance procedures.
  • Under the IDEA, a parent challenging the provision of FAPE may request mediation, may file a complaint with the State educational agency, or may request an impartial administrative hearing by filing a due process complaint.
  • Under Title II, a parent may choose to file a lawsuit in court. Parents of an IDEA-eligible student generally must exhaust the administrative hearing procedures of the IDEA, which means obtaining a final decision under the IDEA's impartial due process hearing procedures, before filing a lawsuit seeking a remedy that is also available under the IDEA.
  • OCR and DOJ both investigate complaints of disability discrimination at schools.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

Part of the federal government, to enforce the law and defend the interests of the United States.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Under IDEA, special education is provided at public expense, under public supervision, and without charge.

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Individual Education Program (IEP)

Written plan individually developed for students identified as having a disability under IDEA.

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Section 504

Prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Written 504 plan used to guide provision of instructional services.

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Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Software scans images and translates content into live text.

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