A Fair Shot: Advocating for a Young Student’s Disability Rights

United Way fights for the education, health and financial stability of every person in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties.



• Bright Horizons provides advocacy services for students with disabilities ages 3-22 to ensure access to appropriate educational and community supports.
• In addition to direct advocacy, they also provide free initial consults, training podcasts, and services to students in foster care.
• Because of our generous donors and donor designations, United Way has invested $19,849 in Bright Horizons’ Bright Futures for Students with Disabilities program for the 2019-2020 funding cycle

Our daughter, Hailey, is sitting in the back seat, humming along to whatever made-up song is playing in her mind. She looks like any seven-year-old girl. “You wouldn’t know it to look at her,” people have said, referring to her cognitive disability. The humming grows louder. If I or my husband were to turn around and tell her to stop, it might trigger an outburst, beyond a typical tantrum, and if we were to snap at her for misbehaving, the outburst might escalate. As has happened.

This is her first day back at school in a week, after one such incident got her an expulsion notice.

“If it weren’t for our Bright Horizons advocate, we wouldn’t have been back here ever again.”

The school building’s new administration decided Hailey’s “extra needs” would be better served elsewhere, that she posed “an actionable risk” to the other students.

I turn into the school parking lot and pull up to the drop-off curb. I look at my husband and take his hand. Hailey’s song is reaching a tra-la-la crescendo.

We’re supposed to meet with Lisa, our Bright Horizons advocate, after this. She, like us, thinks Hailey deserves to stay here, that forced placement elsewhere wouldn’t be to her benefit.

“It could be a lengthy process,” Lisa warned us last week at our first consultation. She was referring to mediation. “Given the complexity of disability laws, it’s important everyone involved engages in healthy conversation about what’s best for Hailey. The crucial thing right now, though, is making sure her routine isn’t disrupted any further. That means working with the district to get her back in the classroom while we settle this dispute.”

Hailey is full-on singing now. Other parents drive their cars around ours as the procession of elementary school students shuffle into the building.

My husband looks at me and I know we’re thinking the same thing: What if this is a mistake? What if this really isn’t the right school for her? He looks tired. Neither of us has slept much this past week. I want to tell him we’re going to be okay.

When we tried to research disability-related laws, we realized we were in over our heads. During our search, though, we stumbled upon the Bright Horizons website. Lisa told us she’d put in whatever time was necessary to make sure Hailey got a fair shot. She has a son with the same diagnosis. “All of our staff either have disabilities, or have family members with disabilities,” she told us.

My husband says, “I think I know this one.” He turns around and joins in on the chorus. Pretty soon all three of us are filling the air in mismatched harmony: tra-la-la-la-la!

A few students look over as they walk past. Hailey stops singing and grabs her backpack and gets out without further ceremony. She joins some of her classmates and we wait until she goes through the doors and then we wait for a few minutes longer. I put the car in gear and my husband and I hum Hailey’s song on our way to meet Lisa.


*This blog post is based on a true story / success narrative from Bright Horizons. All identities of submitted success stories are anonymous for privacy and story details have been added in order to provide a better understanding of the individual’s successes and struggles.

Change Maker Action: Because of your support, individuals and families in need of disability rights advocacy have access to effective resources by contacting Bright Horizons. If you would like more information, contact Bright Horizons Advocacy & Consulting, LLC at 419-491-0500.