Advocacy Updates: 9/6/23


September 6, 2023 | by Amber Smock

Back to School Advocacy Updates from Access Living

Access Living friends and allies,

Let’s catch up! For Access Living’s advocacy team, the day after Labor Day is the kickoff to our fall systems advocacy work. Both chambers of Congress are back in session after their August recess, and the Illinois legislature’s veto session starts on October 24. Both the Cook County Board and Chicago’s City Council will be focusing on passing their 2024 budget packages by November 30 for the County, and December 31 for the City. Fall is also an important time to talk to Illinois state government officials about what we need in the state budget package that Governor Pritzker will propose in February.

This week, we will be sharing key developments that took place this summer. Today’s updates mainly focus on education and Chicago students with disabilities.

Are you a student with a disability? Are you in need of an accessible device for school or do you need help navigating your device utilizing the digital accessibility features available to you? Access Living can help. Reach out to our technology coordinator Kavasea Garrett (, 312-640-2118) to schedule a 1-on-1 consultation or join a group class digital accessibility class.

New Chicago Special Education Advisory Committee: The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education has established a new Special Education Advisory Committee that held its first meeting on August 1 (meeting notice and related info here). CPS Board member Mary Fahey Hughes, a longtime special educate advocate and parent, chairs the new committee. Access Living’s Education Policy Analyst, Frank Lally, was also named to the committee. As Chicago students with disabilities return to school, we look forward to the important work of this committee.

CPS Leadership Change: For those who may not know, June saw a CPS leadership change for the Office of Diverse Learners and Support Services (ODLSS), the main office overseeing education for students with disabilities. ODLSS chief Stephanie Jones stepped down (see this Chalkbeat story) and Richard Smith was named as interim chief for ODLSS. Smith is a former ODLSS chief and is in charge while CPS searches for a permanent replacement.

Addressing Seclusion and Restraint in CPS: Among interim ODLSS chief Smith’s top priorities has been to get CPS on track to meet Illinois state requirements on training staff on the proper use of restraint, timeout, and seclusion. On August 21, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez announced that CPS had finally met the state’s deadline that day to ensure training of at least two staff members at all of CPS’ 517 schools. See this Chalkbeat story for the overview. You can see who is trained at your school using the CPS public database.While these steps are important for CPS, Access Living remains a strong supporter of the federal Keeping All Students Safe Act (KASA), which calls for setting a federal standard to ban seclusion as well as restraints that restrict breathing. It would also require the limiting of physical restraint to only in certain circumstances, as well as measures to improve transparency in school reporting of seclusion and restraint. 

Illinois Public Colleges and Proof of Disability: This past spring, Access Living helped lead the passage of the Removing Barriers to Higher Education Success Act. This new law would allow students with disabilities to offer their school 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as proof of disability for Illinois public colleges and universities. The new law aims to simplify the process of proving disability for reasonable accommodation purposes at postsecondary public schools in Illinois, and was inspired by the federal RISE Act bill, which has yet to be passed. 

Any questions related to Access Living’s education policy advocacy may be directed to Frank Lally, our Education Policy Analyst, at Thank you to all our subscribers for your disability advocacy every day!