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Tips for Someone With an Education Plan, From Someone With an Education Plan

By Nuala Stanghellini

Whether you have an IEP or 504 and whether you go to public school or private school, the Education Plan exists to assist students. The IEP and 504 outline accommodations, help students achieve their goals, and provide services to level the playing field for all students.

However, using accommodations can sometimes cause difficult situations. Sometimes teachers are not aware of one's accommodations, sometimes it’s difficult to know what works best, and sometimes it’s hard to speak up. I empathize, as I have had an IEP since kindergarten, and I am now a junior in high school. So, I have come up with my top ten tips for someone with an education plan, from someone with an education plan. As you read, don’t forget that no matter what happens, you’re awesome!

1. Learn to self-advocate. Do it at your own pace but take some steps now. You can start slow.

2. It’s very important to reflect on what you need and be able to effectively speak on it. It’s important to ask yourself what the challenge is, so it will be easy for others to understand when you access your accommodations.

3. Be aware of accommodations: try to get a copy of your plan or take notes on what accommodations you get. Try to get into your meeting or ask your parents about it. Keep the notes with you at school so you know exactly what to ask for. You can hold people accountable without seeming rude. The 504/IEP is required by law.

4. It’s okay to make a change. After reflecting on a challenge, I recommend being extra attentive to the success of the solution. Sometimes, there will be things to tweak, and sometimes, the original plan will need to be scrapped. It will be a much faster process if you, as a student, are aware of the situation.

5. Make sure you’re getting the support you need. Reflect. If you need another accommodation contact someone on your team (your parents or guidance counselor).

6. Follow up with teachers and make sure they have received a copy of the document. Communicate with them! Teachers are not always aware of unique accommodations. It can be hard to navigate when teachers do not hear the facts and figures from the student. Being knowledgeable about your accommodations will ensure that you will always receive the accommodations to which you are entitled.

7. Your education plan is a legal document! It’s mandated by law, and it’s okay to not share everything with everyone. While team members should be informed, it’s not up to you to answer your classmates' questions about what you need.

8. Always know what mandates your documents. (IDEA, ADA, Rehabilitation Act, or whatever it may be).

9. Don’t feel guilty about asking for accommodations. You have an extra obstacle in your way. Part of being disabled is being aware of society’s need to accommodate you.

10. Remember that your accommodations do not define you. The Education Plan is there to help you, but it does not define you. It is only one aspect of your education. It is a tool that helps you achieve what you want, and it lets you learn in a classroom that is appropriately challenging for you, without holding you back.

For me, it took a few years to find a happy balance between accommodation and academia. However, after this balance is reached, it will be a much smoother ride.

These tips are general guidelines. Everyone’s education is unique to them, and some things that work for me may not work for everyone else. However, I do hope that I was able to give some inspiration to my fellow Education Plan users. I wish everyone luck and success this school year!

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