Please no MORE, just the SAME for students with disabilities

5:09 pm

In the early 1970’s the Pennsylvania ARC won a court case that allowed children with disabilities the right to a public education. Their attorney Thomas Gilhool used the precedent set by Brown v. Board of education in 1954 that separate but equal was inherently unequal. In 1973 the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed and people with disabilities were given legal protection for the first time. Section 504 of this Act prohibited discrimination based on disability in any program receiving federal funds. It took a lot of effort on the parts of advocates to get the regulations written and this finally happened in 1977. In 1974 the Amendments to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act addressed issues related to students with disabilities and this led in 1975 to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act which provides for a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for children with disabilities. This law was renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990. Also in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed finally giving full legal equality to people with disabilities.

While all of this history was being made there were still children being placed in institutions into the 1970’s. When a mother gave birth to a child with a disability the physician commonly recommended immediate placement into the institution and to forget about the child and go have more babies. If the parent did not take this advice the child was still relatively invisible even if you were a part of the parent movement. Even if you did not put your child away you eventually had to send them to the institution for their services because that was the only way to get specialized medical help. When you watch a film from the 50’s and 60’s about Oregon’s Institution the Fairview Training Center (Once called the Institute for the Feeble Minded) you see rows and rows of infants in cribs and nurses in crisp uniforms. You see children no older than 4 in a stark white room with a few dolls and some balls. Fairview Training Center did not close until 2000. I worked with people that had been placed in Fairview as young children and had lived there 40 years and often more. They had no friends and their family had been told to forget about them a long time ago. I read reports about people that entered Fairview walking, talking, and with skills and now this person was in a wheelchair, could not talk, and could not even do the most basic things for themselves.

When do we get to at least start having the conversations about implementing the ADA in public buildings and places? I often get asked, “What about buildings that were built before the ADA was made into law? That will cost a lot of money.” Well schools were supposed to be equalized by federal funding since 1973 and the ADA brought more regulation in 1990; how many more years can we get out of that excuse? When there is talk about minorities, diversity, and equity people with disabilities are not always included. Important, life changing decisions are made for people with physical, medical, cognitive, and acquired disabilities all the time without their consent or opinion. Parents hear, “Your child’s needs are going to be best served in this special classroom with other kids like them. I am a professional you know and evidence based best practices say that this is best for your child.” This logic sounds a little bit like those doctors back in the day that said, “This is the best place for your child with people like them. Go home, have more kids and forget about this one. “We already did that and it wasn’t very nice.

Special education pull-outs from general education are supposed to be a pit stop to gain some skills and quickly get back into the race; not a place you stay your entire school career. These pull-outs from general education currently are a door that closes once you step through it. These children might be sheltered and warehoused in separate wings, portables on the playground, converted locker rooms, basements. Their classrooms are prone to change to new buildings from one year to the next forcing children to transfer. Children with IEP’s do not have the same rights as other children to attend their neighborhood school. If you have a disability and live across the street from a school they will short bus you all the way across town anyway. They will have a variety of reasons for this. Some of them are ADA related or there simply is not a classroom that will meet the needs of the child according to the IEP team. A parent that wants something different has to seek due process. We are discussing transfer options at length and there are some students in PPS that would just like to attend their neighborhood school and they are told NO.

Don’t strategize how you can give people more services to “fix” them, throw more pots of money at them, plan how to give them “special” opportunities to be equitably distributed, and don’t immerse them with people of “their” kind and let them prove to you in segregation with lack of peer models that they “deserve” to be with everyone else. Please no MORE, People with disabilities (teachers, parents, students, staff, citizens) should have the same right to complain about their neighborhood school like everyone else. Students should be able to attend in the neighborhood. Parents in wheelchairs should be able to have access to their child’s school. Administrators, teachers, and staff in wheelchairs should have the opportunity to work in any school they wish.

Please do continue to give people with disabilities a voice in the forum that includes minorities and diversity but only the same, not more. Allow them to have similar joys and worries any student, parent, teacher, citizen might have.

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Stephanie Hunter is a behavior consultant and the parent of a student at Ockley Green. She is active in local and statewide advocacy for children and adults with disabilities, which she writes about on her blog Belonging Matters.

filed under: IEP, Segregation

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8 Responses

  1. Comment from pdxmomto2:

    Here! Here! Since I stepped inside my daughter’s neighborhood school for the first time 2 years ago I thought “what the heck would a parent or student in a wheel chair do?” Growing up (in the 80’s pre-ADA), both of my parents worked with disabled adults and were always pointing out barriers or rarely barrier-free access to public spaces. So this is something I have been keenly aware of as public spaces have become more accessible in the last two decades – that is why I was appalled by the state of our local school.

    My daughter was also born with bilateral club feet. We are grateful to Shriner’s -hospital that she can walk normally now due to very early treatment(for 3 years starting at 2 weeks old). So I am always aware that had her treatment not been as successful she would not be able to attend our neighborhood school, or many others in PPS.

    This is 2009, we are almost 20 years post ADA and more than 35 years since the rehab act and section 504. When is PPS going to get with the program?

  2. Comment from PPS_Parent:

    I don’t believe that PPS has built a school for 50 years and some of its buildings are even older.

    Bringing all schools up to current standards for accessibility would be enormously expensive and perhaps even architecturally impossible in some schools or many schools.

    Still, the question of what children with disabilities are being denied because of Portland’s aged buildings is certainly a fair one. There may be things PPS can do that don’t involve retrofitting its schools to current standards.

    PPS is probably not the only district in this situation, so it would be helpful to know what other districts with similarly-aged buildings have done. It might also help to tour Vancouver schools, as VSD has rebuilt its schools over the past 10-20 years, to get an idea of the facilities that are available and whether they are in line with your expectations. Beaverton has probably also built new schools. My point is that it’s important to know what possibilities facilities open and close and what possibilities programmatic choices open and close.

  3. Comment from Rita:

    I completely agree that PPS has neglected accessibility issues for far too long. In fairness, though, I think that the District and the Board in recent years have at least acknowledged that there is a critical need for accessibility upgrades and this has been a big factor in the facilities planning process in the last couple of years. It’s true also that these upgrades, along with all the other necessary renovations, will be expensive and require a significant bond.

    I gather that the Board is still thinking that this bond issue can be on the ballot in November, but in the current economic climate I find it hard to believe that it will be approved. Even if it is, I sincerely doubt that there will be buyers at an interest rate that makes any sense.

    So, the good news is that I think the District is at least aware of the accessibility issues; the bad news is that we still may not see much improvement in the foreseeable future.

  4. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    pdxmomto2 – Thanks for seeing things others don’t.

    The disability rights movement is moving at a snail’s pace because it depends on people actually getting involved on a local level and people that do not have disabilities to see the invisible people. Advocacy groups tend to focus on legislative action but there is not enough grassroots movement to improve our communities to be more accessible and inclusive. I would love it if people with disabilities and those that care about them would take a page out of the civil rights movement and women rights movement and demonstrate day and night until these changes occur. I am part of a few groups that are focused on local level action so WATCH OUT Portland!

    I took a training recently where we had to group up with people we did not know and without speaking or writing words come up with an idea for lunch and then actually get the lunch. I found that I gave up a lot of what I would normally want because I could not communicate it to the group and one person became the informal leader. The group with the vegan person had a really hard time. We then had to go and order food without speaking and endure the stares and annoyance of the people in the community. I really understood why people with communication challenges avoid going out in public.

    Disability is a consequence of the environment. If I was in a wheelchair and there were curb cuts everywhere I went, doorways were wide enough, bathroom stalls for wheelchairs actually were big enough for power chairs to turn around, items were in my reach, buttons were big enough for me to press accurately, every building had a ramp or elevator, people did not seem nervous and afraid of me, and it was just normal for me to be there then I would not actually have a disability.

    1 in 5 Americans has a disability. It is the largest minority group in the US. Unemployment is estimated at 70% for people with disabilities and now it is probably worse than that. The graduation rate for students with disabilities is half that of students without. People with disabilities have to live on SSI and they cannot take a job that they might actually be able to live off of because they lose needed services. Parents of kids receiving SSI pass up promotions and good jobs because they cannot live without their child’s SSI…or that is what they have been led to believe.

    I am patient and kind and will work with the district. I received a very nice email from the school board recently that this issue was in their radar. Respectfully, if you are not the anti-ADA lobby then it does not benefit you to keep this line going about expense. Sure it is a reality that making things equal costs money but you could be that 1 in 5 someday and it will be a harsh reality check when you need to get somewhere and are told that there is not enough money for you to be there. Think about this war we have been fighting and how many more people will soon be in our communities that cannot access basic services. We really can’t wait any longer.

  5. Comment from Rita:

    I agree with you, Stephanie. PPS needs to deal with this, and soon. My comment was meant to pat the Board on the head a little since I think they’ve gotten the message. That’s progress. And I do think they are serious about retrofitting buildings. (I don’t often get an opportunity to applaud the Board, so I’m trying to give them credit where credit is due.)

    Unfortunately, with bond money not an option in the short term, we’re going to have to find some other source of funding for it. So all I’m saying is that money needs to be found elsewhere.

    Would have been nice if schools had been included in the federal stimulus package, but that part was taken out. Maybe the disability community, in coalition with vets and seniors can form a coalition to get some Congressional support for some money for ADA compliance efforts. Locally, I think the only hope for anything reasonable is a wholesale restructuring of the state tax system. I’d like to see some more coalition building on that since Salem does not seem inclined to do anything serious. (The Human Services Coalition of Oregon is doing some great work on the budget.) It would be nice if the education advocates would take this issue seriously and include it in their lobbying efforts. I’m not aware that ADA compliance issues are part of their package.

    So I’m not advising patience on anything. Quite the opposite, actually, I’m eagerly awaiting the day that we all get serious about taking this country back. Demo anyone?

  6. Comment from Stephanie:

    Rita – I was well received by the board on this issue and noted that ADA compliance was then added in to the document I had brought to their attention. I apologize if I have to flex my muscles a bit. Just trying to stay tough when these issues get murky as the comments grow.

    I do want to get away from the money conversations though because this is bigger than that in a lot of ways. Parents have been rigging their homes with duct tape and elbow grease to meet needs for much longer than the ADA has been around. If the disability community was engaged on this issue then we would find ways to do what we can in the district till the total makeover can happen. How wonderful if the board would have an open forum on disability issues and instead of excuses there was just one question….”Do you have any ideas?” and an acknowledgment that the disability community might actually be able to help prioritize what can happen now and bring some things to the table. ADA compliance is the bare minimum and when you read parts of it you wonder if they actually asked someone with a disability. For example: Wood chips on a playground are considered ADA accessible????

  7. Comment from Rita:

    Yeah, what’s with the woodchips? At my kid’s school parks and rec replaced the play area (for an exorbitant amount of money with VERY little to show for it, and it took absolutely forever). The puzzling thing was the ADA accommodations: a wheelchair ramp into the woodchips (for huge $$). Now, I’ve never used a wheelchair, but I can’t believe this makes any sense. How can they get away with this pretend compliance?

  8. Comment from Stephanie Hunter:

    My guess is that they just imagined what compliance would be and did not ask an ACTUAL PERSON that might use it. Play equipment is only set up for people that can transfer themselves. If you’ve seen those large swings (usually blue) with the straps that dip back a little those are accessible swings. I have only seen one of these at Washington Park but there may be others. There are swings for entire wheelchairs as well but I have only seen them one time at an adult group home. The children’s museum has been hosting forums for families with kids with autism which is pretty cool. Oaks Park has an accessible train and merry go round. I have transferred people physically onto rides from wheelchairs before.

    A very cool group that has formed in Portland is called “Everybody Swings”. Since adaptive swings can be added to any swing frame the goal of this group is to make Portland parks accessible one swing at a time. If you are on Facebook you can join here;ref=ts

    That one swing at a time mentality is what I am hoping to generate with school accessibility not only for people in wheelchairs but kids bussed across town to special classrooms or transferred repeatedly. There are things we can do today to make schools more welcoming for kids with disabilities. As I said once before, dignity and respect are FREE.

    If anyone wants to get more involved anyone can join the special education PTA for PPS. You can learn more at Interested community members are welcome and you do not have to have a disability or parent someone to join.