Roaming the Halls Student Profile

Disparities discovered

Seeking policy change in (dis)ability education


Kathleen Reeb-Reascos, a GSE educational culture, policy and society doctoral student, at her computer before heading to teach class. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Reeb-Reascos) 

Kathleen Reeb-Reascos, a GSE educational culture, policy and society doctoral student with visual impairment, has experience navigating the education system for people with disabilities. She took her curiosity about the supports in schools, crafted a dissertation study—“Constructing the Realities of (Dis)ability: How Institutional Arrangements and School Typologies Undergird the CSE Process”—and won a national award.

Reeb-Reascos was one of 35 students to win the 2020 National Academy of Education’s Spencer Dissertation Fellowship and the first UB student to be included.

Lately, she has been feeling hopeful about her power to help increase public understanding and awareness about the need for improving how Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, are tailored to help students with disabilities navigate school.

For the past year, Reeb-Reascos studied the way the IEPs functioned at three different public elementary schools—a wealthy, majority white school, one with high-poverty and students of color, and one that had a diverse mix.

She learned how hard parents work to navigate, making one phone call after another, sometimes filing lawsuits, as they advocate for their children.

“It’s almost a full-time job…Those are parents who have a certain level of assets. What’s happening to parents who don’t have that?” asked Reeb-Reascos. “I wanted to look at whether the make-up of that school influences that process.”

While she is still drafting her final dissertation, preliminary data from educators and specialists show there are big differences in the way IEPs work from one school to the next. It turns out the implementation varies and so does service to children. That lack of uniformity, which Reeb-Reascos is analyzing, makes it difficult to set up optimal outcomes and goals. 

The disparities are troubling, given that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 is very clear about how the IEP process should unfold, said Reeb-Reascos. 

“Why do we see such vast differences in servicing and support?” she questioned. She wants her project to get people’s attention so that policymakers will start making changes. “We need a wake-up call,” Reeb-Reascos said. 

“The world of disability is complex. There’s acceptance and there’s also a lot of stigma,” she said. “My purpose for all of this is to capture what is going on and bring it to those who can make change.”