By Attorney Franklin J. Hickman
There are few forces as powerful as a well-informed parent advocating for her (or his) child:
In 1972 mothers in Philadelphia organized to challenge Pennsylvania’s practice of excluding their children – who were diagnosed with severe cognitive deficits – from any public education. Their efforts resulted in the first case establishing a right to a free appropriate education for their children. Three years later Congress passed 94-142 – the grandparent of the IDEA – which guarantees appropriate education and services to all children with disabilities.
Several years later, the same mothers challenged the shocking conditions at Pennhurst State School and Hospital for individuals with cognitive deficits. Their efforts led to an order closing the hospital and developing a system of community-based alternatives in Pennsylvania.
Parents across Ohio started programs for their children with disabilities in church basements and public halls. They had spaghetti dinners and craft sales to fund these modest efforts. The families pressured local and state officials to get programs for their children with disabilities out of church basements and into programs run by trained professionals. In 1968, their efforts resulted in the formation of the county boards of developmental disabilities which, today, offer comprehensive services to individuals with cognitive disabilities from birth through retirement.
Margaret Burley, a farm wife from Central Ohio was unable to get services for her son who is blind and cognitively impaired. She organized other parents of children with disabilities of all types to form the Ohio Coalition for the Education of Children with Disabilities – one of the most influential advocacy groups in the country. She has testified in Congress and been honored by the White House.
One of Hickman & Lowder’s primary missions is to offer training, support and legal tools needed to develop the power of a parent’s advocacy.