I became involved in this grassroots parent civil rights movement, as most do, because of my own immediate needs for my son. I was able to resolve his issues within the first year. Subsequent IEP meetings were never an issue once I acquired the knowledge to be an effective advocate for my son.
I continue to remain involved with the desired outcome that no parent would ever experience what I had to. Paying it forward is what we all seem to end up doing eventually. I often wonder how different the outcomes would have been if I hadn’t stepped up. One can make a difference but together we are unstoppable and without restrictions.
I am ever so grateful for what was available to benefit my son. After that initial confrontation regarding his services I was able to work collaboratively with his teachers and schools to successfully meet his needs. Unfortunately that wasn’t true of so many families I had talked with. Apparently there was a direct correlation between your knowledge of the rights under federal law and the services your child received. Understanding what the laws are and what they mean is the catalyst to receiving appropriate educational services. Understanding where the laws come from will help better explain why you can access the rights we have today.
I think that from time to time we need to look back and recognize the efforts of all those who went before us and made the sacrifices to gain the civil rights we now have. Over the years I have had opportunities to actually meet some of those incredible advocates. I was so young and in total awe of them. I soaked up the knowledge they were sharing like a sponge.
Pioneers are those who go first and make paths for others to follow. I was actually able to see and hear Justin Dart known as the father of the Americans with disabilities Act. Famous (and not-so-famous) People with Disabilities – Justin Dart
One of the earliest influences on me was Reed Martin In Memory of Reed Martin . He was a special education attorney and a pioneer in many of the Supreme Court cases that still define IDEA today. I had his complete set of his cassette tapes and listened to them over and over. I learned so much from him. I feel so fortunate to have been able to hear him speak in person on numerous occasions. Reading his book Extraordinary Children, Ordinary Lives: Stories Behind Special Education Case Law gave me real insight into why laws were interpreted as they were, and also gave me a glimpse of the families involved in case law, who had fought so hard for their children. Extraordinary Children, Ordinary Lives: Stories Behind Special Education Case Law [Paperback]
One of my favorite Reed Martin stories isn’t about his skills as an attorney or advocate but rather his reaction when confronted by a Florida palmetto bug (which is a very big cockroach) during a speaking engagement at a church in Pensacola. Apparently not everything in Texas is bigger as he appeared taken aback and uttered a blasphemous statement and stomped on the bug before proceeding with his presentation. I cringed expecting a lightning bolt to strike him through the roof of the church but apparently his transgression was forgiven as he continued unabated.
I met and listened to Judith Heumann (American disability rights activist Judith Heumann – You Tube) tell her story of struggling to achieve access to civil rights as a child and as an adult. One of the most powerful women in the history of the disability civil rights movement started her journey being taught in the school basement because the building wasn’t accessible to her wheelchair!
All of the case law used today is a result of efforts made by parents of children with disabilities and individuals with disabilities. We should never forget what they sacrificed to give us what we have today, and often take for granted. I met Amy Rowley and heard her speak – stressing that given a choice again she would choose the general education class. Rowley defined what Free Appropriate Public Education means. Hendrick Hudson Board of Education. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176 (1982) Hearing her speak reinforced that the choices I had made for my son were the right ones.
Going back even further in history the two most famous first civil rights movements, The Woman Suffrage Movement , which demanded equal rights for women, and then the movement that demanded equal rights for ALL, Champions of Human Rights , which produced Brown vs. The Board of Education, which coined the phrase – “separate is not equal”. (Brown v. Board of Education – 1954) Many more court cases have followed, and defined the disability rights laws that protect our children’s right to a Free Appropriate Public Education, and all people with disabilities the right to equal access.
I am sure that in the past 35 years there really haven’t been that many issues that have not already seen the inside of a court room seeking interpretation. I met Rachel Holland, Sacramento City School Dist. v. Rachel H. Rachel’s mother shared that their court case resulted in her family losing their house.
I met Danny Ramirez’s parents and watched her tear up as she felt their sacrifices were in vain since children remained in segregated settings and it looked like that was becoming a growing trend leading in the opposite direction from where they struggled to give others access to. Daniel R.R. v. State Bd. of Education
I listened to the lead attorney on the Oberti case OBERTI v. BOARD OF EDUC., and what I gained from all of this was that so many others on so many different fronts and degrees had done the same things that I had. They saw injustice and rather than turn away stood firm and made a difference in their own lives then continued on to make a difference for others.
You cannot become complacent but must remain vigilant lest these rights be stripped away by bureaucrats looking to balance budgets on the backs of the disabled.