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Meeting legislative challenges; educating our neighbors.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is landmark legislation for children and adults with disabilities and their families. Its enactment is a tribute to the dedication, hard work and growing political skills of people with disabilities of all ages, family members, organizations and other advocates committed to the full participation in community life for all people of all ages children, adults and senior citizens.

In the current economic and political climate, many parents as well as professionals are skeptical of new legislation when the major pieces of legislation already in effect are under attack at state and local levels. Both the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the legislation mandating early intervention programs are being cited as contributing factors in budgetary crises in many communities. Headlines often talk about mandated programs contributing to waste and being unproductive. In a recent editorial, The New York Times supported changing the regulations in New York state in order to increase the class size for children with disabilities. The Times supported the changes because they believe that children with special needs and their families should share the burden of educational budget cuts equally with other children and families. The notion of equal burden sharing might be reasonable if all children and families truly had equal access to educational opportunities.

Many attacks on budgets imply, or sometime state directly, that programs and services for children with disabilities are less important than similar services for other children. In addition, it is often suggested that the resources that are expended are not actually accomplishing their goals.

Advocates for children, parents and professionals know that the enactment of each law is the beginning of a process that leads to its implementation at the community level and hopefully to its acceptance as part of everyday community life.

With all legislation, from laws recently enacted to those that are implemented over time, we face the continuous need to educate all citizens about the purposes, requirements and cost effectiveness of each law. This educational process must start with us. We need to share with one another information about successful programs and services that illustrate effective implementation of legislation. We are vividly reminded of this as a result of a recent visit to a Midwestern school district we had honored for its ability to actively include children with disabilities in regular school settings. We need to publicize these exemplary programs and show how they can be carried out in other communities. This can provide us with information to deal with the fears and concerns of our friends and neighbors about whether expenditures for education and other services are worthwhile, meet stated goals and are cost effective.

Our friends and neighbors are unaware of how many children and adults benefit from legislation. In our own travels, people tell us that they believe legislative mandates in relation to children with disabilities and their families are important. However, these same people often state that these laws actually affect only a few families.

In fact, current research indicates that over half of the families in the United States include a family member with a disability who receives some kind of support from recently mandated federal legislation. Yet, people do not see themselves as part of the community that receives the benefits of programs for services.

From the beginning of Exceptional Parent 20 years ago, we began to hear from many parents who described how isolated they felt in caring for their child. Hopefully, Exceptional Parent has provided a forum to help deal with the sense of isolation, loneliness, and political helplessness many families experience. We have also heard from family members' grandparents, uncles and aunts how isolated they feel from the child with disabilities and their family - they have nothing practical to do and often feel guilty and left out.

Many parents have told us how friends and acquaintances want to help, but they have not known what to ask them to do. Families can give friends and relatives something important to do and include them in an important mission. They can ask them to help in educating themselves and others about the nature, meaning and practical results of the various laws that provide services for children and families. They can demonstrate how the laws affect the lives of everyone and how so many families include a family member with a disability. In doing this, parents and their friends can join together and insure that appropriate programs and services for children with disabilities and their families and for adults with disabilities of all ages and their families remain a top priority in every community.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1991
Previous Article:The Americans with Disabilities Act and the future for children.
Next Article:Big boys don't cry.

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