The Language of IEPs and 504s: Eliminate “Access” and Define “Use”

A friend shared her daughter’s IEP. It included the following accommodation:

Access to Flash Pass

“Access” is up there with “as needed” and “all” and “before“.

What is “access”, other than a word that is over-used and under-defined in IEPs and 504 Plans?

What Does “Access” Mean?

On the surface, you might think it means my friend’s daughter will have a flash pass to use. (Not familiar with flash passes? Read “Accommodation Break Down: Flash Pass.”)

But, that’s not defined in the accommodation.

Having access isn’t the same as being able to use it.

I have access to an array of Jeeps at the local dealership show room, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to use any of them. (Side note: Nothing beats a Wrangler.)

Inserted into accommodations, access means little more than being in the vicinity of, being able to touch, being able to hold.

It isn’t the same as “use”.

What Does “Use” Mean?

It means I can go into that show room and use one of those Jeeps.

So, that’s better than “access”, but you need more.

How will it be used?

When will it be used?

Where will it be used?

Where will it be kept?

And—in this case only can you use this word—how will it be “accessed”?

For example, in keeping with the Flash Pass example:

Does the student have to show it to the teacher or will the teacher accept a head nod or another sign from the student?

Will the student be able to use it in class and lunch and assemblies and [insert other examples here]? Or is usage limited to class?

Does the student keep the pass all year or is he or she given one first period of each day?

If the student keeps it, does it have to be stapled to an agenda, kept in a special folder, or something else? If it is given to the student each day, where will the teacher go to obtain it and how will it be given to the student?

What About School Policy?

In the case of the flash pass, can a student use it any time and how will school staff react if they see the student with it?

Schools in my area have a 20-20 rule. Students aren’t allowed in the hallways 20 minutes after the bell starting class or 20 minutes before the bell ending class (classes are 90 minutes). However, accommodations trump such policies. For example, a student with Diabetes can’t sit in class during the 20-20 rule if she needs to go to the nurse. For some students, denying accommodations puts the kids health at risk, so the accommodations come first. (Fairfax County Public Schools, as one example, has been found in noncompliance by the Virginia Department of Education for refusing to allow students to use flash passes when the 20-20 rule is being implemented.)

Ask how staff who don’t know your child are trained. Continuing with the flash pass example, if they see your child in the hallway if the 20-20 rule is in place, will they fault your child and give them a hard time? Will they kindly ask where the student is headed? How are they trained to react? And, if staff need training, then you can request that training in the form of related services.

Access and Use

These are such simple words, but in the context of IEPs and 504 Plans, they make a world of difference.

Define. Define. Define.

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