2024 Design-Your-Own Fellowship Applications are Open

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Headshot of Vanessa Aceves

Vanessa Aceves

  • Hosted by Equip for Equality
  • Sponsored by Aon, Kirkland & Ellis LLP
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Loyola University Chicago School of Law
  • Issue area Education/Special Education, Technology
  • Fellowship class year 2023
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Vanessa’s (she/her/hers) project will ensure academic success and future independence for low-income students with complex communication needs by expanding access to highly needed augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).

Upwards of 91,000 students in Illinois have complex communication needs and would benefit from communication devices to express themselves to fully participate in their education. Despite federal and state laws that protect students who require communication devices, Illinois school districts systematically fail to appropriately evaluate and train educators to implement a communication device. For low-income families, school is often the only place they can turn to access a communication device for their children due to challenges with health care access.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Vanessa will provide direct legal assistance to families in both English and Spanish, including advocacy support, representation at Individualized Education Program Meetings (IEPs), mediations, and administrative due process hearings. Vanessa will conduct community outreach trainings to increase advocacy support and inform of legal rights to communication devices. Vanessa will also collaborate with community partners to develop a direct referral base for AAC throughout Illinois.

As a life-long Chicagoan and former CPS student, Vanessa is deeply passionate about quality public education for all. When she discovered special education law existed, she knew it was the path for her.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship is a personal mission, based on my brother’s lack of access to critical communication devices. Through my project, I want to uplift the voices of similar students who have been denied opportunities to effectively communicate.

Vanessa Aceves /
2023 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Meet Other Fellows Like Vanessa

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Christina Campbell

Host: Center For Educational Excellence In Alternative Settings

Sponsor: Greenberg Traurig, LLP

Clayton Adams

Host: Atlanta Legal Aid Society

Sponsor: Alston & Bird, LLP, UPS

Paul Easton

Host: Children's Law Center of Massachusetts

Sponsor: Biogen, Mintz

Sarah Bellinger

Host: Advocacy, Inc.

Sponsor: Texas Access to Justice Foundation