I was born in the former Soviet Union and was raised to believe that you cannot question authority. As a result, I lacked self-advocacy skills, so when my daughter was born with a life threatening health condition, I went along with what the professionals recommended.
However, when my daughter began junior high school, her school wanted to convert her IEP to a 504 plan and I strongly disagreed. I know that parents in this country have rights so I searched on the internet and discovered INCLUDEnyc (then Resources for Children with Special Needs). I called the Help Line and someone picked up right away. The family educator helped me prepare and practice what I was going to say at the IEP meeting and, because English is not my first language, she was patient and spoke slowly so I could write everything down. Using the exceptional tools INCLUDEnyc gave me, I was able to advocate for my daughter. As a result, her IEP wasn’t changed. INCLUDEnyc was with me the entire way and they helped me tremendously. I continue to utilize the tools they gave me to fight for my daughter. When she was denied a para for after school activities, I used my new self-advocacy skills and my notes from my previous calls with INCLUDEnyc (and called them for a little reinforcement) and within 2 weeks, the problem was resolved.
I was proud of myself for being able to implement what INCLUDEnyc taught me and I have been teaching these skills to other parents. INCLUDEnyc’s knowledge and influence is spreading and I hope to help them reach as many people as possible, because parents are lost. We don’t know how to address a lot of problems we encounter. It’s especially difficult for immigrants like me because I thought I was alone and assumed I didn’t have any rights. I didn’t know where to go, who to ask, what to do. INCLUDEnyc gave me the strength and confidence to be an advocate for my child.
I want all parents to know that INCLUDEnyc is here for you. You are not alone. Somebody is there to work with you and fight for your child.
As my daughter prepares to graduate high school and go to college, I want her to know that she was helped by people like the INCLUDEnyc staff. And I believe that in the future, she will pay it forward and help to bring love, equity, and access to all young people with disabilities.
-Written by Inna