In The Politics of Autism, I write about special education and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law was originally the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. There were forerunners.
It was 1970, the start of a decade of change.
A motley crew of two bell-bottomed men in their early 20s and four women twice their age piled into a VW van with balding tires and set out from Seattle on road trips around Washington.
They talked to parents, teachers, politicians — anybody who would listen and also those who wouldn’t.
Their goal: overhaul the state school system to educate all students with disabilities, not just the most high-functioning.
Janet Taggart was one of the moms in the tan van. She had a daughter who was among 4 million American children being refused a public education. She didn’t think that was fair. Neither did the other three women in the van, two of whom had sons with autism.
The guy with the long dark sideburns behind the wheel, Bill Dussault, was a second-year law student at the University of Washington. The moms recruited him and a fellow classmate to write a bill that would give all children the right to an education. Back then, the few school programs outside of institutions were for children with mild learning disabilities. Thousands in Washington were excluded, with no recourse. Disability laws didn’t exist.
Their mission was to pass a law with teeth. What they came up with was short yet pointed, and the genesis for a civil rights milestone.
Eight months after their first September road trip, Gov. Dan Evans signed House Bill 90 “Education for All” into law in May 1971. It was the first law in the United States that mandated a state to educate all special needs children, regardless of the level of disability.