Chapter 7. The Parents‘ Movement
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131 7 The Parents’ Movement In the 1930s, parents of children with disabilities, particularly children diagnosed with cerebral palsy and mental retardation, began organizing into small, local support groups to discuss issues of mutual interest . This process accelerated in the mid- to late 1940s, largely because of the participation of returning veterans, who believed that their communities owed their families consideration after their service to the nation. All this activity led, in 1949, to the founding of the United Cerebral Palsy Associations, Inc., and, in 1950, the National Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Retarded Children, which became the National Association for Retarded Children (NARC). The parents’ movement was instrumental in forcing the creation and expansion of federal, state, and local programs for children with disabilities. Private and public recreational programs and summer camps, the first paratransit systems in the United States, and the movement for deinstitutionalization of people labeled mentally retarded all in large part were the result of the advocacy of parents’ organizations. The importance, then, of the parents’ movement in the history of disability rights can hardly be overstated. It was the parents’ organizations, most especially the Association for Retarded Children, that filed some of the first and most farreaching disability rights litigation, and here again, Gunnar Dybwad was a major factor. Inspired by Brown v. Board of Education, he had as early as the late 1950s been contemplating some sort of right-to-education lawsuit on behalf of children with disabilities, searching for the perfect case and a local ARC to bring it. In 1969, the leadership of the Pennsylvania association (PARC), in particular, James Wilson and Dennis Haggerty, decided to take up the challenge. After a vote of approval from PARC, they engaged Thomas K. Gilhool, already known for his welfare rights litigation, to craft the groundbreaking right to due process and equal protection arguments that would eventually carry the day. 132 chapter 7 Dennis Haggerty “God damn it, there isn’t any time. The time should be right now.” As Dennis Haggerty describes himself, he is something of a political incendiary . “I figured our job was to run around the country starting fires, and then sit back to see what happened.” It was with this object in mind that Haggerty and fellow attorney Larry Kane solicited the original funds for the National Center for Law and the Handicapped, which began operation at Notre Dame in 1971 and closed shop in 1980. And as a stalwart Republican, Haggerty knew just where to turn for the money. “Larry had gone to law school at Notre Dame, and we knew the president of Notre Dame, Father Hesburgh,1 who was a friend of Richard Nixon. So we came up with the idea: why don’t we see if we can get Father Hesburgh to let us use the law students at Notre Dame to do research for us, because it would be cheap? And if we can get that done, we might then get some money from the [Nixon] administration. So Hesburgh said, ‘Fine. Amen. I’m on board.’ We got Nixon to come up with $500,000 to help us.” With this seed money, the group of lawyers and students that made up the National Center, including Robert Burgdorf and Frank Laski, filed several of the earliest state right-to-education cases, most notably In re G. H. (1974), and pulled together some of the first materials on disability rights law.2 Born in November 1927, Dennis Haggerty was institutionalized when he was nine years old, after a bout of pneumonia that turned into bronchitis. “It was called the Atlantic City Seashore House, which was private.” Haggerty spent a year there, where he saw not only abuse of patients by staff but also the ways institution administrators were able to cover it up. Returning home to his family and school, he discovered that disability “had a stigma attached to it. During the thirties people were trying to hide the fact that they were involved [with disability] at all.” Hazed by his schoolmates, he “just sucked it up.” After high school Haggerty served thirteen years in the navy. He earned a law degree from Temple University in 1955, and set up private practice in Philadelphia . He married in 1951, and he and his wife had a son, Dennis Jr., in 1958. “He was born normal but got pneumonia at three months. It lingered until he was nine months old, when they went in to see what...



Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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