Cogswell Bill History and Update

The Alice Cogswell Act: Its Purpose and Relationship to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act was first enacted as “Education for All Handicapped Children Act” also known as Public Law 94-142 in 1975 out of the concern that only one in five children with disabilities received education from U.S. schools and that many states had laws excluding students with certain disabilities, including those who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or intellectually challenged. In 1990, the law changed its name to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) through an amendment. Since then, it has been amended every 5 years or so, in 1997 and 2004, and was scheduled to be reauthorized by the U.S. Congress in 2011 after reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the 40 years since, the IDEA has been beneficial to many students with disabilities, but not as much for deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, blind, and visually impaired students.

In preparation for the reauthorization, blind national organizations including the American Foundation for the Blind decided to be proactive and develop a list of recommended amendments to ensure needed quality of services and education for blind and visually impaired students. When they approached the key national organization for administrators for schools/programs for the deaf, Council of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD), it was found that both organizations shared a lot of the same concerns, so they decided to join efforts and develop a joint bill, now known as the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, named for the first deaf student in the U.S. to receive a formal education and the beloved teacher of Helen Keller, respectively. This became the centerpiece of the Child First campaign as led by CEASD, starting in 2012.  Lawyers from CEASD, NAD and the Deaf community developed needed amendments specific for deaf and hard of hearing students, focusing on language access, accountability, tracking of students/services, and access to other deaf students and adult role models.

With the support of over a hundred organizations and schools, combined amendments from national organizations were introduced in the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress as the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act twice in 2015 and 2016 as H.R. 4040 and H.R. 3535, but died both times because the IDEA had not yet arrived on the Congressional schedule for discussion. Both times, over 100 representatives and Senators were educated on the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students, and each bill had over 40 bipartisan sponsors, which bodes well for the amendments within the Cogswell-Sullivan Macy Act bill to be incorporated with the reauthorization of the IDEA law in the 115th Congress (2017).

In summary, the Cogswell- Sullivan Macy Act will enhance the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to better meet the needs of students who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind blind, or visually impaired. The Act will ensure that:

  • every child who is deaf or deafblind or blind, regardless of whether they have additional disabilities, will be properly counted and served;

Rationale: There is a current discrepancy in the number of deaf and blind children- the National Center for Education Statistics under the U.S. Department of Education stated in 2012 that there were 350,000 deaf and hard of hearing students and 100,000 blind and visually impaired students, while the Office of Special Education Programs also under USDOE stated that there were 79,000 deaf and hard of hearing students that needed IDEA services, and only 30,000 blind and visually impaired students needed IDEA services.* While not all deaf and blind students qualify for IDEA services, we have learned that many are misdiagnosed, encouraged to waive their rights, or identified under one of their other additional disabilities.

  • each of a child’s learning needs will be properly evaluated;

Rationale: It is common practice for deaf and blind students to be evaluated by a professional that is not familiar with their specific disability or needs, nor is there direct communication access, due to the professional not knowing ASL or Braille. This results in erroneous reports on the student’s true abilities and knowledge and lowered or incorrect expectations.

  • states will engage in strategic planning to be sure that they can meet each child’s specialized needs;

Rationale: Due to the above issues with tracking and evaluation and other factors, the majority of deaf and blind children are falling in the cracks and are not receiving access to education nor language, and at the very same time, many schools established to focus on deaf and blind education are struggling to keep their doors open. In our view, this violates the continuum requirement of the IDEA to preserve all school options for students with disabilities.

  • the U.S. Department of Education will do its part to hold states and schools accountable; and
    students will be served by qualified personnel.

Rationale: The U.S. Department of Education has the ability to request specific information from and to provide policy guidance/resources to states and schools to ensure that populations with low-incidence disabilities such as being deaf, deafblind, or blind are not forgotten or disregarded.

Learn more about the Cogswell-Sullivan Macy Act bill.

You are also encouraged to contact your U.S. Congressional member directly and encourage them to support the Cogswell-Macy Sullivan Act!



*U.S. Census 2010, U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2012). Digest of Education Statistics, 2011 (NCES 2012-001)