I returned home with renewed purpose empowered with all this new information and now a job to provide it to other parents. I also had the new tools of the computer and internet and email. I surfed the web reading and learning more. I understood that this was about parents of children with disabilities learning from other parents of children with disabilities. When I would take a call from a parent seeking information I remembered how lost I was in the beginning and always tried to meet the need of whatever service they were seeking to find. I began a list-serve locally with the parents that had email access. Although my son’s disability was deafness, I chose from the start not to be disability specific but focus on everyone. When other parents would call I always offered to add them to the list-serve as well. I would send email daily attaching information I either came across on the web or someone had sent it to me. Those parents would share with others who then would email and ask to be added in. Before long this network had grown to become statewide and beyond. Others were doing the same thing on different levels. The state of Florida had become electronically networked by parents. (Health Groups on Yahoo)
This gave us access to each other and a convenient way to communicate about anything and everything instantly. In knowledge lies power and in unity strength. We had become a collective force to be reckoned with no longer isolated or lacking information. I continued this emailing for nineteen years until recently when with the emergence of Facebook I moved my efforts there. The network has grown on Facebook and become by far the largest network I have ever had.
I continued to notice that the father participation was extremely limited. I was the only dad employed at the parent center. You could count the number of dads at the conferences on one hand. I was the only dad at the doctor’s office and at therapy sessions. I penned these thoughts and submitted them to Exceptional Parent Magazine. (Exceptional Parent Magazine) I was contacted by Dr. James May of the National Father’s Network (Father’s Network) and my article was published in his Father’s Voices section. (Father of Two Article Father of Two Article ) I, and three other dads, started the first Father to Father Support group in Florida modeled after what Dr. May shared with me. The Florida Fathers Network (Florida Father’s Network) still exists today and the dads are becoming more prevalent at conferences and other disability functions. Yet after all this time proportionally fathers remain in the minority.
I had started fulfilling the duties of my new job and taking calls from other parents, sharing resources with them and helping guide them as others had guided me. I set up and presented topical workshops for parents on IDEA in my community, and started the planning to duplicate the conference I had attended in Miami on the southeast coast of the state – on an annual basis. The location was at my discretion and the first parent disability conference was held in Ft. Myers at the Holiday Inn. It was two days of information and workshops in English and Spanish with sign language interpreters. Renee and Lilly both came and presented workshops. Mr. Flood from the Advocacy Center presented. Of course there was the information table sagging from the weight of the printed materials I had ordered for parents. I encouraged them to take as much as they could and share with others. For two decades this became my signature mark at any conference until we went paperless and it all fit on a single CD. I had a vendors section with a large variety of organizations displaying services and products. Parents came from all over south Florida.
The special education director from Lee County, where the special school my son attended was located, was in attendance.
I had begun to get the attention of the other local school districts surrounding my own.
They were aware of my pending OCR complaint and the impact it might have on the way they served students who were deaf/hard of hearing – not only from our county, but at least three other counties in this multi county program.
I continued to contact the Atlanta OCR office that served Florida (Office of Civil Rights) that had been investigating my complaint. Finally the long anticipated ruling was ready to be shared and I was told that I would receive a letter containing the findings. With the delays, it had taken an entire school year and most of the summer to get the OCR investigation completed. I checked the mailbox daily in anticipation.