Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thank you, Senator Kennedy

It seems like many special education/disability blogs are writing about Senator Ted Kennedy today, and who can blame them? Senator Kennedy had many issues he was passionate about but disability rights, education and health care were certainly the top of his list.

This morning I went to see my father and I entered his kitchen he shouted out from the living room, "Kate, your friend Ted passed away...."

I already knew. I met Senator Kennedy a few times. The first time I was 16 years old, a high school junior I was one of the two Massachusetts winners of the 1993 United States Youth Senate Scholarship Award, which included a week spent in Washington, D.C. and, for most recipients, a meeting with your senator(s). For many years a framed photo of Senator Kennedy and I, with me wearing my Senate Youth Scholarship Medal, sat on the mantel in my childhood home. Later, teaching with learners who had complex medical disabilities, I had opportunities to met Senator Kennedy and then First Lady Clinton as well.

Yet it was my more recent correspondence with Senator Kennedy's office that met the most to me. Soon after my sister, who lived with disabilities, passed away I had an opportunity to lobby on behalf of disability rights and health care reform in her memory. To my surprise, in my Senator's office responded directly and immediately. Not form letters, but a series of direct phone calls and e-mails asking for more information about my sister, her life and experiences.

Senator Kennedy's list of accomplishments gives me chills, I will reprint those that are relevant to special education below, but as his constituent, it was his office's attention to the individuals in his state and the issues that mattered to them that made him a great man to me.

List of disability/education/health care related laws and programs successfully legislated by Senator Kennedy, from Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords.

1964: Head Start
-- Provided meals and early education to pre-school children through the Employee Opportunity Act.

1971: Federal Cancer Research Program
-- Quadrupled the amount of money spent by the federal government to fight cancer.

1972: Title IX
-- Demanded equal funding for men's and women's athletics on college campuses.

1975: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
-- Guaranteed free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities.

1978: Civil Rights Commission Act Amendments
-- Expanded the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission to protect people from discrimination on the basis of disability.

1984: Improved Access to Polling Stations
-- Required polling stations to provide physical accessibility for physically disabled and elderly people on federal election days.

1986: Employment Opportunities for Disabled Americans Act
-- Allowed disabled workers to receive SSI benefits and Medicaid coverage.

1988: Fair Housing Act Amendments
-- Prohibited discrimination towards people with disabilities in the sale or rental of housing.

1989: National Military Child Care Act
-- Established the Department of Defense child care system.

1990: Americans with Disabilities Act
-- Prohibited discrimination against any qualified individual with a disability in job application procedures, hiring or discharge, compensation, advancement and training.

1990: Ryan White CARE Act
-- Provided assistance to states to develop effective and cost-efficient AIDS care programs, aimed particularly at early diagnosis and home care.

1993: National and Community Service Trust Act
-- Created AmeriCorps and the Corporation for National and Community Service to help expand volunteerism and education grants for students who choose to volunteer for service after college.

1993: Student Loans
-- Allowed students to borrow money for college directly from the federal government.

1994: Family and Medical Leave Act
-- Provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family emergencies or after the birth of infants.

1994: Crime Act
-- Secured funding for 100,000 new police officers, imposed new penalties for crimes involving gangs and firearms and authorized the Police Corps, a program to award college scholarships to students in return for a commitment to serve as police officers.

1996: Kennedy-Kassebaum Act
-- Enabled employees to keep health insurance after leaving their job and prohibited insurance companies from refusing to renew coverage on the basis of preexisting medical conditions.

1996: Mental Health Parity Bill
-- Eliminated limits on mental health coverage that differ from other covered illnesses.

1997: State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
-- Supported state efforts to provide health insurance to uninsured children in low-income families.

2000: Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education Act
-- Improved data systems and research on the extent and severity of minority health problems, and authorized significant resources to help enhance the delivery of health care to minorities.

2001: No Child Left Behind Act
-- Required more rigorous testing of public school students and permitted parents to transfer their children from low-performing to higher-performing schools. Mandated special needs students have access to the general curriculum.

2006: Family Opportunity Act
-- Provided states the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage to children with special needs and allowed low- and middle-income families with disabled children the ability to purchase coverage under the Medicaid program.

Perhaps we will name our reformed health care program, which makes sure the USA, like all first world countries, provides health care for all those who need it after Senator Kennedy?

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