Jan. 27, 2017 04:29 PM

Liam Doyle details his path to disability advocacy in this 2016 TEDxVermilionStreet talk. The letter below was sent to Sen. Bill Cassidy's Washington, D.C., office.
Dear Sen. Cassidy,

Hello. My name is Liam Doyle, and I am an advocate for disabilities rights as well as a concerned citizen of Lafayette, La. My purpose for writing you today is quite simple. I am writing today to implore you not to vote to confirm Betsy DeVos as our new secretary of education. My reason for making this request of you is that I truly feel that not only is Mrs. DeVos unqualified for her position, but additionally some of her views would set a dangerous and harmful precedent for our country that simply cannot be overlooked.

I would like to speak specifically to Mrs. DeVos’ comments, ideas, and lack of understanding regarding The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. When questioned during her confirmation hearing, she seemingly failed to realize that the IDEA is indeed a federal law. When asked by Sen. Maggie Hassan “So were you unaware when I just asked you about the IDEA that it was a federal law?” DeVos responded, “I may have confused it.” This to me is quite troubling because if she fails to understand the basic classification of a law, (in this case state or federal) then how can she possibly understand the intricacies of something as vital as the IDEA? This law provides funding, resources, and regulations that in many cases are life changing and MUST be understood fully in order to enact properly. Even more troubling during the same hearing she was questioned by Sen. Tim Kaine who asked DeVos if the IDEA should continue to be federally regulated DeVos said “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Mr. Kaine came back: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and other states might not be so good, and then what? People can just move around the country if they don’t like how their kids are being treated?”

Mrs. DeVos repeated, “I think that is an issue that’s best left to the states.”

This kind of thinking is not just irresponsible; it’s cruel. To allow the states to cherry pick whether they get to uphold a federal law sends a clear message that she has little experience, and more importantly little regard, for students with disabilities. I know from personal experience the kind of tools and opportunities at stake with such a flagrant disregard for a law as this. To Mrs. DeVos, it’s little more than words on a page, but for millions of Americans it dictates how their quality of life is to be carried out. These programs and opportunities are vital.

As I sit here tonight the way I am typing this letter is different than most and is a life skill I developed in occupational therapy all throughout my middle school career. Moreover because of the IDEA, I was allowed to learn and socialize alongside regular ed. students, and it is in those interactions that I discovered the man I am today. As an advocate for disability rights, it is my duty and calling to shed light on subjects that the general public knows little about in order to better understand one another. Without the IDEA and those much needed opportunities I wouldn’t be writing this letter and trying to change my community and country for the better.

If nothing else I’ve written has struck a chord with you, Sen. Cassidy, let me leave you with the following notion. Education should not be a partisan issue, and while I understand your commendable feeling of loyalty to vote with your party and this administration, I kindly remind you that you also have a responsibility to the state of Louisiana and all of its peoples, even the frequently overlooked.

Thank you for your time and attention on this matter.

Respectfully Yours,

Liam Doyle
Disability Rights Advocate
Lafayette, Louisiana