Educational Aside – An Act Relating to Education of Physically Handicapped or Exceptional Children
The Legislature in 1955 added 9 new sections to the Maine Statutes pertaining to education that included “exceptional children” alongside those that were “physically handicapped” in accessing “within practical limits, equal educational opportunities”. While still segregated from their non-disabled peers, this law opened up opportunities to children with developmental disabilities.
“The term “handicapped or exceptional child” shall mean any educable child under 21 years of age…whose educational needs cannot be adequately provided for through the usual facilities and services of the public schools and community school districts, because of the physical or mental deviations of such child.”
Who and what do we value in our society? How do we determine someone’s “worth”, and whether they are deserving of help when they need it? Are all people really equal – and do we treat everyone as equally human?
People with developmental disabilities were sent to institutions because they were seen as useless or even dangerous to society. Their value in a place like Pineland rested on their potential for being trained to do menial labor – a Pineland resident could potentially get a furlough or even release from the institution if they could show that they could work.
In general, people with developmental disabilities throughout our history have been dismissed, patronized, and dehumanized. Doctors assumed that people with developmental disabilities didn’t feel pain, caretakers believed that they did not need friendships or hobbies or someone to communicate with, and society saw them as dangerous and unfit.
There were also people and moments in history that shifted our assumptions about the value of people with developmental disabilities – President Kennedy’s experience of loving his sister with disabilities led to huge policy shifts that impacted people with developmental disabilities across our country, and the brave self-advocates who organized a civil rights movement led directly to another president signing the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The question must be posed, what is the value of all potential members of the community, with or without disability, to the very health and fiber of the community?