Photo of Evelyn Ayay

Evelyn Ayay

  • Hosted by Equip for Equality
  • Sponsored by ADM
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school University of Chicago Law School
  • Issue area Education/Special Education, Medical-Legal Partnership
  • Fellowship class year 2021
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Evelyn (she/her/hers) empowers families and children with developmental disabilities to access critical early childhood special education services (“ECSE”) through education, representation, and medical-legal partnerships.

Access to ECSE can dramatically change the developmental trajectory of young children with disabilities. Yet, there are significant barriers to accessing these critical services for children with developmental disabilities from racially and economically marginalized communities, leading to serious education inequities in Illinois. Evelyn’s project provides families with the legal information, tools, and representation they need to access critical ECSE services, as well as pursues strategies to overcome barriers at the systemic level.

Evelyn’s background in child development inspires her deep commitment to empowering families and increasing access to early childhood special education services.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Evelyn has:

  • Established a Medical-Legal Partnership to identify and support families in need of legal assistance, and trained over 250 medical and related service providers
  • Provided full representation to 16 families, including advocating for appropriate behavioral supports for students to reduce exclusionary school discipline and increase access to learning; accessing paraprofessional and related services; and securing the timely evaluation of students in need of special education services
  • Provided brief services and legal advice and information to over 100 families and medical providers on a range of issues from enrollment and eligibility for preschool special education services, access to transportation, placement in appropriate preschool programming, and the mitigation of preschool expulsion risks
  • Attended 34 tele-mentoring sessions with a network of medical providers across the state of Illinois to disseminate information, advocacy strategies, and resources related to the legal rights of students with developmental disabilities and their families

Next Steps

In the next year, Evelyn plans to:

  • Implement a parent training series to empower families and increase awareness of the legal rights of young children with disabilities
  • Leverage policy and systemic advocacy strategies to address barriers to the equitable access of early childhood special education services
  • Increase project’s pro bono capacity through collaboration with her sponsor, ADM

By ensuring access to services early on, we can not only improve outcomes for children in preschool, but also long-term outcomes and build a more equitable education system in Illinois.

Evelyn Ayay /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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