Special Education

Hillary Clinton Spotlighted Disability Rights Activism in Nomination Acceptance

By Christina A. Samuels — July 29, 2016 1 min read
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On Thursday night, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton reintroduced herself to the nation, explaining how her lifetime of activism and public service qualifies her for the job of president.

One of those stories involves her work to promote the 1975 law called the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which would later become the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In Clinton’s words:

I went to work for the Children's Defense Fund, going door-to-door in New Bedford, Massachusetts on behalf of children with disabilities who were denied the chance to go to school. I remember meeting a young girl in a wheelchair on the small back porch of her house. She told me how badly she wanted to go to school—it just didn't seem possible. And I couldn't stop thinking of my mother and what she went through as a child. It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action. So we gathered facts. We built a coalition. And our work helped convince Congress to ensure access to education for all students with disabilities. It's a big idea, isn't it? Every kid with a disability has the right to go to school. But how do you make an idea like that real? You do it step-by-step, year-by-year, sometimes even door-by-door.

In an election season where disability issues have not taken the spotlight, the anecdote was noteworthy for touching on the wonky details of the federal special education law. But those who have been following Clinton closely know she has often referred on the campaign trail to her Children’s Defense Fund work.

In her book “Living History,” Clinton went into more detail. In 1973, the Children’s Defense Fund wanted to understand why there was a large number of children with disabilities listed as living in New Bedford, Mass., but few of them were enrolled in school. As she knocked on doors, what she discovered was “revelatory and heartbreaking,” she said. Her work was included in the Fund’s landmark 1974 report, “Children Out of School in America,” which spurred lawmakers to make education a civil right for students with disabilities.

Clinton spent less than a year in Massachusetts, then moved to Washington as a congressional aide and from there to Arkansas. In 1975, she married Bill Clinton.

In her platform, Clinton has outlined a birth-through-adulthood plan to support people with autism. She has also completed a questionnaire outlining her positions that was developed by RespectAbility USA, a disability advocacy organization.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has not focused on disability issues at this point in his campaign.

Photo:Hillary Clinton walks on to the stage to accept her nomination from the Democratic Party for president on the final night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.—Deanna Del Ciello/Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.