20% of people identify as having one or more disabilities in the United States. Odds are, it is likely you may have a friend, family member, or know someone with a physical or cognitive disability. Or in my case, a sibling. I’ve grown up acutely aware of the challenges someone with a cognitive and learning disability faces everyday: especially in school, and growing up. In the United States, we have laws in place that are supposed to ensure children with disabilities are not caught up and disenfranchised by the educational systems they are in. Children with disabilities have "a right to fair and appropriate education" as outlined in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
When this promise of a fair and appropriate education trickles from parliament, to state house, to town municipality, to school district, some of that commitment seems to get lost along the way. For students with disabilities, US schools offer Individualized Education Programs, hereinafter "IEPs". These are programs that are designed on a custom basis to provide services and modifications to ensure that these students can reach success, however that is defined, within their education.
It all sounds appropriate, until you lay your eyes on an IEP. IEPs take the form of compliance-based, cold, jargon-heavy, dense, unorganized, confusing tax-looking forms, spanning from 5 to 50 pages. Xeroxed over thousands of times, scribbled on top of, and presented to a parent-- they are practically unreadable, and seldom used by teachers. Because of this, many parents are unable to advocate on behalf of their child during their annual IEP meetings, and teachers do not have a clear guide on the student and their individual needs.
My thesis project is a complete design and user experience overhaul of the IEP form. This redesign brings a higher level of functionality, empathy, and accessibility to the form, as well as provides additional resources and documents that serve the student, parent, and the teacher. This project empowers the parent to understand the document page by page despite their race, language, or class limitations, so they may advocate for their child’s right to a free and appropriate public education.