In 1951, a third-grader named Linda was not allowed to attend her neighborhood school. Linda’s father Oliver Brown took action, eventually becoming the named plaintiff in the 1954 Supreme Court decision banning racial segregation in public schools. But for many years after 1954, children with disabilities could still be segregated from others, or barred from public education entirely. However, Brown v. Board of Education had cleared the path that would eventually lead to federal law declaring that children with disabilities had the right to a free public education.
Families of children with disabilities don’t always see themselves as part of a great civil rights movement with a long, powerful history and vision. But they can, through an experience that can change their lives.
Partners in Policymaking® training (“Partners” for short) began in 1987 in Minnesota, by the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Partners is an intensive advocacy training course for adults with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. The program is now available in 29 states and several countries in the United Kingdom.
A Partners class meets one weekend a month for eight months. The course is free and meals, transportation, and lodging are provided. Participants are inspired to see themselves as part of a community and a movement. They gain practical knowledge—about IEPs and 504 plans, housing and employment planning, assistive technology (including adapting toys!), communication. They learn networking and advocacy skills from speakers and trainers who come from every corner of the nation.
This is all new to some parents. Others might know these things but find they’ve become burned out and frustrated by the barriers they and their children face every day. For them, Partners is like finding air when you feel suffocated.
Partners form a bond. One mother, travelling far from home, found herself chatting with a fellow elevator passenger in a hospital where both had family members receiving care. Within minutes, they discovered they were both Partners graduates—and immediately exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. With their training, some join boards and councils, lobby for legislation, and find other ways to carry the movement forward.
Although the ideal Partners experience is classroom training, the program offers online courses as well. In some states, the program is limited to those involved with developmental disabilities; in other states, there is no restriction. For the Partners in Policymaking® website, go to http://www.partnersinpolicymaking.com . The site provides classroom program contact information, access to online Partners training, highlights of what Partners graduates have accomplished, and links to disability resources.