An inspiring true story of the people who helped make every public school in the nation a more inclusive place.
My life as an author, illustrator, mother, and disability rights advocate has merged.
Over the past few years, I have researched the history of education for children with disabilities. What I discovered was a painful past, one in which children with disabilities were seen as useless, worthless and a burden on society.
I was surprised to discover that as recent as 1970, millions of children with disabilities were excluded from public education classrooms. A small number of children with mild disabilities were sometimes allowed to attend public school, only to be segregated from their peers and given an inadequate education. The majority of children were placed in institutions, hospitals or stayed at home and given no education at all. The schools argued that children with disabilities were unable to learn, would distract the other students, and require too much time and funds.
I delved deeper into the subject and stumbled across a lawsuit that changed everything. In the early 1970’s seven brave families from the Washington, DC area, whose children had a variety of disabilities, joined together to fight for the right of their children to attend public schools. A group of lawyers sued the Board of Education in US District Court on their behalf and WON. The case was called Mills v. Board of Education of District of Columbia. It was a class action suit, representing not only these seven children, but over 18,000 other children in the Washington, DC area, who were also excluded from public education. This landmark case paved the way for the creation of important laws ensuring children with disabilities would receive a free, appropriate public education.
While researching this book, I was very fortunate to connect with the last surviving lawyer on the Mills case, Attorney Paul R. Dimond, who generously gave me first-hand insight into this case and the times. (Later, he graciously agreed to write a note, which appears in the book.) Paul coined the term, "The Quiet Revolution” because this momentous civil rights case and subsequent laws did not receive the attention or press it deserved. We talked about this. We wondered,"Why?" Could it have been that people with disabilities did not have the voice or the support needed to catapult this “fight” into the public eye? Or perhaps, society's pre-judgments and prejudices created a belief that people with disabilities were not deserving of these rights. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but based on the history of the times and the discrimination that existed, both scenarios are entirely probable.
As I gathered my notes, I realized that my daughter Janine's life would have been very different had she been born prior to 1970. I told her about the Mills case. I listened as Janine reflected back on her own education as a student with disabilities around the 1990s. She immediately recognized, as did I, that these brave families stood up and changed many lives, including her own. I asked Janine to partner with me, to help tell the story from her perspective. She agreed – and together, this book was born.
A Note From Janine:
In 1985 I was born with Cerebral Palsy, which affected my muscles, vision and cognitive abilities. Throughout my 15 years in public school, I learned side by side with my classmates. I thrived because of the interactions I had with my peers and made many friends. I received the therapies and accommodations I needed to succeed in school and go on to College where I earned my BA. I am grateful to those students and families who stood up for OUR right to attend public school in 1971.
I often get asked, if I could snap my fingers and not have any disabilities, would I? There is only one answer, NO. I will never drive, ride a bike, or tie my shoes, but my challenges made me who I am today. It is the inside that counts. I focus on what I can do, not what I cannot do, and continue to live my best life. I hope you do too.
Our book publishes on Sept 15, 2021 by Albert Whitman & Co.
We hope you will share it with your families and your classrooms.
We want to get the word out...if you know of any podcasts, blogs or organizations who may want to know more about this book and our story, please reach out to Maryann at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Publicity Dept at Albert Whitman & Co.
Warmly- Maryann & Janine