Washington State House Bill 90 – Education for All was authored by the four Seattle mothers who founded Northwest Center – Janet Taggart and the late Katie Dolan, Evelyn Chapman, and Cecile Lindquist – with assistance from then-law students William “Bill” Dussault and the late George Edensword-Breck.
Before H.B. 90 was passed, children with disabilities were either kept at home or placed in institutions. Back then, the common belief was that people with disabilities could not learn, and children with disabilities were barred from schools. Education for All was the first U.S. law to grant children with disabilities the right to a free and appropriate public education. It was signed into law by Washington State Governor Dan Evans on May 25,1971.
Fifty years later, on May 25, 2021, Northwest Center hosted a virtual panel honoring this landmark civil rights victory. This post contains highlights from the first half of the panel where Northwest Center President & CEO Gene Boes and Northwest Center Chief People Officer Emily Miller talked with Janet Taggart, Bill Dussault, and Senator Dan Evans about their experiences writing, lobbying, and passing Education for All.
Boes: The legacy of Washington House Bill 90 – Education for All is tied to Northwest Center thanks to our founding mothers: Janet Taggart, who is with us here today, and the late Cecile Lindquist, Evelyn Chapman, and Katie Dolan. These Seattle moms were told that their children didn’t belong in school, the church, or the community, and that they should be put in institutions. And those mothers, rightly so, stood up and said, “Our children can learn, just like every other child.” They started Northwest Center in 1965 and realized quickly that they wanted to help other children. They wrote House Bill 90, which passed in 1971. It became the national blueprint for IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which continues to impact every ZIP code in this country today.
Now, it gives me great pleasure to introduce three people who made history on May 25, 1971.
First, Janet Taggart, one of Northwest Center's founding mothers, and author of Education for All. Janet and her late husband, Phil, were inspired to work on behalf of children with disabilities by their daughter, Naida, who was barred from attending local schools as a child. Once Janet and the Education for All team got House Bill 90 passed, she went on to help write national disability education legislation. Janet 's daughter, Naida, passed away in 2018. But, as you’ll see today, Janet remains just as passionate an advocate for the rights of people of all abilities. And, we’re so grateful to have her here today.
Next, I'd like to introduce Bill Dussault. Bill was a second-year law student at the University of Washington when Northwest Center’s founding mothers recruited him and his classmate to help write a bill that would give all children the right to an education. Now, not only was Bill welcomed for his legal knowledge, he also owned a VW van, and they used that to ferry the team between Seattle and Olympia as they lobbied for their bill to pass. Bill went on to found his own law practice, and has devoted his entire career to disability issues.
Finally, please welcome the Honorable Daniel J. Evans. Dan served three terms as the 16th governor of the state of Washington from 1965 to 1977, and as United States Senator representing Washington state from 1983 to 1989. As governor, Dan founded the country’s first state-level Department of Ecology, which was the blueprint for today's Federal EPA. He's a strong supporter of the state’s higher education system. He founded Washington’s system of community colleges. And, from 1977 to 1983, he served as the President of the Evergreen State College in Olympia. Dan has a close connection to Northwest Center. His cousin, Cecile Lindquist, was one of our four founding mothers. She and Dan were cousin to Tommy, a little boy with Down syndrome, who just wanted to go to school like all other kids. Dan advised the Education for All team on how to best shepherd their bill through the Washington state legislature, and he signed the bill into law 50 years ago today.
Okay, now, I’m going to turn the mic over to one of our moderators for today’s panel – Emily Miller. As Chief People Officer, Emily oversees our Human Resources and Recruiting departments, as well as leading our Communications team. Emily is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and she founded the Northwest Center Equity Committee in 2015.
Miller: Thank you, Gene.
Janet, it’s quite a pivot to go from being a mom of a beautiful little girl, to founding a school for kids with disabilities, to changing the law for all kids with disabilities. Can you tell us – how did the idea of writing a law first come about?
Taggart: The notion that something had to be done came from many parents who gathered together to form the church basement schools. That, and we had the children who were rejected by the Seattle Public School system. Well, at the beginning of our little basement schools, there were the mothers who were gathering at the little café where we were and complaining about the barriers to education. Some of the barriers were in policies. Often, the obstacle was a person, and we all agreed that the person who personified the rejection of our children was the Director of Special Education for the Seattle Public School system, who had the authority to accept or reject any child's entry to the system’s programs. Parent supplicants found that visits to his office offered no hope for consideration since no information or document, nor date, was required for entry or rejection. Simply the opinion of this administrator could open or close the door to the public-school education that we were seeking. As a result of that dictatorial method of choosing students for entry, he became the target of loathing, and an identifiable enemy who served as a symbol for parents seeking an education for their children. For good or for bad, that’s what happened. It's the cohesion of this enemy that brought together the Mother’s Club, and that Mother’s Club became a very effective lobby for the Education for All bills when the time came for us to do that. I think we would classify that as the very beginning of our efforts to pass the law.
Miller: When Education for All passed in 1971, you were in your second year of law school. With your long career focused on disability law, we’d love for you to give us a brief outline of what House Bill 90 covered, and what you can tell us about any major laws or initiatives passed since that time.
Dussault: House Bill 90 was a relatively short bill, only 13 paragraphs long. But, at its foundation, it was a civil rights bill. We wanted to recognize that children who experienced disabilities had a constitutional right to education in the state of Washington. That’s, in fact, where the Education for All name came from – article 9, section 2 of the state constitution. It was the first bill of its kind in the United States requiring that all children – all children, no exception – all had a right to an education; that was one of the foundations of the bill. Secondly, they had a right to an appropriate education, one that was designed around their specific needs. Then, we coupled it with the right of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to sanction school districts who didn’t do it right. It was a transfer of power in the public education system, on a massive level, from educators to parents who knew children best. And, in that regard, it formed the foundation of the disability civil rights movement in the United States.
We've always used education as the foundation for our activities in civil rights. Once we had the right to education, we went on to the right for transportation, public housing, employment, access in the community – something as simple as curb cuts – all generated from this law. The entire civil rights movement started with House Bill 90 and moved forward through the Federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1973, title V of the Rehab Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, which was the successor to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and, perhaps most importantly, the Americans with Disabilities Act. All of those flowed from the efforts of these remarkable four women that changed the world for individuals who experience a disability, and they changed it with all modesty, but with incredible tenacity. My hope, now, is that it establishes a floor for what we have, but not a ceiling. We have so much more to do.
Miller: Senator Evans, when your cousin, Cecile, and the Education for All team first approached you about passing a law, what kind of advice did you give them, and what do you remember about that process?
Evans: Well, I remember it pretty vividly because, 50 years ago, we were in a deep recession, and the legislative session was a difficult one. We were just trying to hang on, and I wasn't terribly interested in starting something new that would get in the way of our survival exercise. But Cecile and Janet and the other two women that joined them were a powerful lobby. There is nothing more powerful than a true citizen's lobby – people who care deeply about an issue, and who are involved in trying to carry that forward.
So, the first thing that was involved was my education. I wasn't very much aware of the fact that so many of our young children were being denied an opportunity to even enter the school system. When Cecile and Janet met with me, they asked me what they needed to do. I said, “Well, on an issue like this, you need to educate every single legislator that you can get ahold of because I'm sure that most of them will not be very aware of what you’re trying to do.”
I thought to myself, “Boy, that's a problem. They’ll never get it done this session. It’ll take several sessions for this to really get in front of the legislature, seriously.” About three days later, I had a report back from Cecile saying, “What do we do next?” I said, “What do you do next?” and she said, “Well, we've contacted every legislator.” I thought to myself, “Wow. I need these four women on my permanent legislative team,” because they had done something that I don't think had ever been done before, and that was to make an intelligent, informed contact with every legislator who was serving. That’s why Education for All was passed during that session. I never thought they had a chance to pass it during the session when we were facing such difficulties with the economy. One of the proudest days of my life was when I sat there with all of them in audience and signed the bill. House Bill 90 was a remarkable piece of legislation made more remarkable because it happened so quickly. But, it was a dramatic step forward nationally, initiated here in the state of Washington, and by a citizen lobby.
Miller: Janet, when Education for All was passed in 1971, where did you think we would be in 2021, and how does that compare to what is really occurring?
Taggart: I expected every child to be able to go to school. I expected that the quality of the programs would improve. I expected to see early learning, early childhood programs, to fit the needs of the children. I considered all of this to be part of today – and it pretty much is. I think I need to remind the people how bad things were originally. Our children were denied not only an education, but they were denied the right to medical insurance coverage. They were denied the right to attend events. Denied the right to go to church. So, things are better now. But, there is still much to do.
I think we have to constantly monitor the legislation that exists. I'd like to see a coordinated parent and professional and advocate organization for children with disabilities, and make them into lobbying entities, based on the model that we used to promote Education for All. I would suggest that we have a single legislative issue to promote annually. I would like to see it advertised and promoted in an annual legislator's luncheon in each state, where parents and professional people would meet to discuss the issue. I'd like to see a system of communication that would be established that promoted that piece of legislation by a single leader, which would then lead to a series of calls and communication to other advocates, and contact with their state legislators. I'd like to see a system of providing national and organized lobbying to bring about meaningful laws and oversight to provide and protect our children.
I think that the monitoring of our present legislation is very important. And, I think this is important, that we keep in contact with our political leaders – our state and federal political leaders to make a single issue each year, and have it coordinated between all the states, that should be a powerful lobby.
Miller: What is one thing people in our audience could do to help move inclusive education forward?
Dussault: Janet hit on a really key issue, and that is implementation. We've got quite a few really wonderful laws on the books over the last 50 years originating out of H.B. 90., but there are no disability policemen. There isn't anybody out there to make sure this happens, except the people that are directly involved. Individuals who experience disability are wonderful advocates, themselves, and need to be incorporated in this movement, and that leads to real inclusion. We need to move from a parent-organized and -structured advocacy movement, which is critical to continue, to include people who experience disabilities themselves. That brings us to real inclusion.
Evans: I think Janet had one of the absolutely important issues she was talking about, and that is, if you can focus on a single issue and get it really focused on by people and parents and legislators and advocates all across the country, you have built an enormous tidal wave of support, and I think that would be a key element in making continuing progress.
Taggart: I think the most important thing for us to do is to monitor the present legislation, and to stay in touch with our political leaders. We have a big job to do, and a lot of it is in the political field.
Evans: One of the difficulties is that we’re in a time now where we've given everyone a megaphone. The single most important advocates the people who care. That's what drove our success from the very beginning. It was Janet, and her cohorts, and Bill, and a number of citizens who just cared very much- understood there was a real problem, and their biggest job was to educate those of us who really didn't know as much about the problems that existed, as we probably should have.
But, that still exists. There are lot of people out there who don't have any feel for what the problems still are for the disabled. We've got to have a continuing and growing group of people who, as lobbyists, are absolutely the finest, the best, and the most powerful of any lobbies that appear before the state legislature or the United States Congress.
Northwest Center is pleased to announce the promotion of Laura Kneedler, M.Ed., to Chief Mission Officer. Kneedler, who joined Northwest Center in 2013 as Director of Early Learning, has held the position of Vice President of Education & Therapy Services on the Northwest Center executive team since 2016.
As Chief Mission Officer, Kneedler will guide the strategic plan for all Northwest Center’s mission services provided through Northwest Center Kids and Northwest Center Employment Services. These include Early Supports for children birth to 3, Northwest Center’s two inclusive early learning centers in downtown Seattle and Greenwood, the IMPACT™ program that provides inclusion training to childcare centers throughout King County, Employment Services across Washington state and in northern Idaho, and related employment programs including School-to-Work.
In her previous role of VP of Education & Therapy Services, Kneedler led a team of 100 therapists, educators, and support staff to directly serve more than 600 children annually with programs of therapy and education. Under her leadership, Northwest Center Kids exponentially expanded its reach by launching programs such as IMPACT (Inclusion Mentorship Program for Increasing Access in Childcare Team), providing training to childcare centers across King County so they can welcome children with special healthcare needs.
Since its launch in 2018, IMPACT has made inclusive early learning available to more than 22,000 children in King County. Kneedler also led Northwest Center Kids as they navigated the COVID-19 pandemic: quickly establishing new safety protocols for our early learning centers and pivoting Early Supports to effective teletherapy services that continue today.
“With Northwest Center Employment Services recently expanding into Idaho, and particularly as the adult clients we serve re-enter the workforce as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, I can think of no one better suited to lead both our Kids and Employment Services divisions as capably and creatively as Laura Kneedler,” says President & CEO Gene Boes. “Her deep understanding of the benefits of disability inclusion at all levels of the community, combined with her innovative thinking and steadfast support of her team members, have yielded positive growth and results throughout her tenure with Northwest Center Kids. We look forward to continued growth and success of both our mission programs under her leadership.”
Prior to joining Northwest Center, Kneedler worked in a variety of settings including public schools, therapeutic childcare centers, and as an early childhood classroom teacher for more than 10 years. She holds a master’s degree in Special Education from Concordia University and a bachelor’s degree in Education/Health & Human Development from Montana State University.
Northwest Center is pleased to welcome Jenn Ramirez Robson as Vice President of Northwest Center Employment Services (ES). In this role, Ramirez Robson will lead Northwest Center’s individualized employment services for people with disabilities across Washington state and in Northern Idaho. These services include training and instruction for people with disabilities to build professional and social skills to prepare for employment, school-to-work services including job readiness, job placement, job coaching, and skill development for individuals in their final years of school, and support for people with disabilities to secure and thrive in meaningful careers.
Before joining Northwest Center, Ramirez Robson was Director of Resident Services for King County Housing Authority (KCHA), a position she held for seven years. In her work for KCHA, Ramirez Robson led a team of 40 people to provide health, economic stability, employment, and education programs, services, and referrals for families, the elderly, and people with disabilities that make up over 18,000 households in KCHA’s subsidized housing programs across King County. In that role, her accomplishments included implementing award-winning programs based on resident and community identified needs; restructuring the Resident Services department to a more effective regional-based model, initiating an agency-wide Trauma-Informed Care training program; launching a Resident Assistant Intern program; and, most recently, co-leading KCHA’s efforts to provide over 70 on-site COVID-19 vaccine clinics for vulnerable community members.
Previously, Ramirez Robson served as Director of Strategic Partnerships for Southwest Youth & Family Services, fostering donor relationships and managing fundraisers that supported critical services in significantly under-resourced communities within South King County including Southwest Seattle, White Center, South Park, Burien, and SeaTac.
From 2011-13, Ramirez Robson was Executive Director of New Futures, which operated community learning centers in four South King County low-income apartment complexes serving more than 1,700 children, youth, and adults each year, where she negotiated a merger between New Futures and Southwest Youth & Family Services. During her tenure, the children served improved an average of 1.4 grade levels in their oral reading each year, 96% percent of youth participants reported that they were planning for graduation and their future, and 72% of families reported increased involvement in their children's reading and homework.
As Vice President of Northwest Center Employment Services, Ramirez Robson will maximize the impact of employment programs centralized to best serve specific regions: North Puget Sound, East Puget Sound, South Puget Sound, and Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho.
“Northwest Center Employment Services has a well-deserved reputation for responsiveness to the people we serve, a commitment to finding meaningful employment for people of all abilities regardless of barriers, our strong business relationships, and our person-centered services. With expertise in successfully serving people from a variety of backgrounds and communities, Jenn Ramirez Robson is the perfect choice to lead our Employment Services team,” says President & CEO Gene Boes. “We look forward to continuing to build on our services as we begin to place people in employment in Idaho and as more people prepare to return to work as the pandemic begins to recede.”
To learn more about inclusive hiring, please visit NWCenter.org/Inclusion.
Volker “VW” Wellmann joins Northwest Center as Senior Vice President of Integrated Facility Services
Northwest Center is pleased to welcome Volker “VW” Wellmann as Senior Vice President of Northwest Center Integrated Facility Services (IFS). In this role, Wellmann will lead Northwest Center’s IFS division in providing a range of janitorial and building maintenance services to organizations throughout the U.S., spanning industries including Commercial, Retail, Institutional, Industrial & Distribution, Government and Exterior.
Wellman previously served as Vice President for Kellermeyer Bergenson Services (KBS), where he led the Operations leadership teams in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic area. Previously, he spent eight years with Fortune 200 service company Ecolab as Assistant Vice President, Corporate Accounts, managing commercial products and service programs for corporate-level clients in the facilities, hospitality and healthcare industries. Before joining Ecolab, he was Area Vice President, Field Sales and Service for Swisher Hygiene International, where he identified and brought to market new product lines and profit centers for a private equity group and led national sales and marketing initiatives.
As Senior Vice President, Wellmann will drive growth at Northwest Center Integrated Facility Services, one of Northwest Center’s key social enterprises with more than 30 years of experience providing expert commercial services to customers while also generating funds to support Northwest Center’s services for people with disabilities.
“I’m incredibly excited to have VW join Northwest Center,” says President & CEO Gene Boes. “His leadership, expertise, and energy will help us exponentially grow the IFS Division and in turn will accelerate our efforts to create the inclusive world we all deserve.”
To learn more about Northwest Center businesses including IFS, please visit NWCenterBusiness.com
King County’s Best Starts for Kids (BSK) levy, which is up for voter renewal on August 3, funds two important Northwest Center programs:
IMPACT provides consultation and professional development trainings to spread NWC’s mission and vision of inclusion to all of King County, with the ultimate goal of changing the landscape of early learning and childcare across the county to fully support children of all abilities.
Our Early Supports team, thanks to BSK funding, was able to meet our families’ needs throughout the pandemic by pivoting to a telehealth model and delivering needed resources directly to families. Funding from BSK also helped Early Supports launch equity initiatives including language access and racial equity projects to make materials and services accessible to more families.
Since King County voters passed the BSK levy in 2015, more than $368 million has been distributed to hundreds of other programs. These include:
Funded through a property tax, BSK was designed to help children realize their potential to be happy, healthy, safe, and thriving. The levy “Invests Early” by funding programs to support pregnant parents and children prenatal through five years old, and then “Sustains the Gain” through grants that support children, youth and young adults ages 5 through 24.
If BSK is not renewed on the August 3 ballot, funding is set to expire on December 31, 2021.
Join us as we mark a civil rights milestone: the 50th anniversary of the passage of Washington State House Bill 90 - Education for All. This virtual conversation, featuring leading voices in disability rights and education, will look at the history of the groundbreaking law and discuss what’s needed for the future of inclusive education. You can register here.
Below, meet our panel of advocates, educators, and professionals dedicated to equity, justice, and inclusion for those within the disability community.
Meet the Panelists:
In 1967, almost 200,000 individuals with significant disabilities were living in state institutions. Before the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) of 1975, people with disabilities were likely to have inequitable opportunities in life. State institutions provided only minimal clothing, food, and shelter; furthermore, people with disabilities were merely accommodated rather than assessed and educated.
The Individuals with Disabilities Act ensures that all children with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. Prior to IDEA, over 4 million children with disabilities were denied appropriate access to public education. Many children were denied entry into public school altogether, while others were placed in segregated classrooms or in regular classrooms without adequate support for the individual needs.
Providing proper education to children with disabilities requires a diverse cultural, racial, and ethnic sensitivity. Resources regarding placement for children with disabilities were sparse, with parents not being afforded the opportunity to get involved in the planning or placement decisions regarding their children and their specific needs.
We're living through an extraordinary moment in time. But what gives me hope is our equally extraordinary commitment to serving our community.
When COVID-19 first hit, Northwest Center's priority was to continue to take care of our employees and deliver on our mission for our kids, families, and clients. We knew we would have to work harder than ever to connect to the communities we serve.
As the effects of the pandemic continue to take their toll, I couldn’t be prouder of this organization for our ability to adapt and innovate so we could continue serving a community that needs us more than ever. And we couldn’t have done it without you.
Every second counts when it comes to Early Supports services—birth to 3 is the most critical time to reach children with disabilities or delays. In March 2020, we quickly pivoted to teletherapy, and we continue to provide remote services today—and more. Northwest Center has been a lifeline for more than 300 families: making deliveries of necessities ranging from occupational therapy tools to basic needs supplies while providing critical services and emotional support.
After a brief forced closure, our schools were able to reopen, but with extensive adjustments: new lesson plans accommodating changing guidelines; learning to convey emotions to babies while wearing a mask; establishing new, reassuring routines when parents could no longer drop kids at their classroom doors; and accommodating remote learning by juggling schedules and shifting to a longer day.
Our teachers put even more of their hearts and souls into our work to deliver effective solutions. Our parents recently shared that Northwest Center has served as a vital “safety and support net” for them to count on during these trying times.
The isolation and shutdowns of COVID-19 hit the disability community the hardest. Our team jumped into action, flexed their innovative muscles, and created new ways to actively support every client—even those who were out of work, but still needed to sharpen their employment skills. Our clients received virtual trainings tailored to their progress, and benefited from the much-needed human connection.
More of our clients have been able to find employment and return to work in the past few weeks, and despite all they've faced, our clients' success is once again shining through.
We are heartened by the promise of a return to “normal,” but the crisis of COVID-19 is still very much with us. The effects will linger: for babies who are missing critical therapy, for clients suffering emotionally and economically from lack of work, for families who have faced so much hardship.
We rely on your support so we can continue to serve our community at a time they need it most. We hope you will consider making a gift to Northwest Center this year.
We are grateful to all those who have supported us during this extraordinary year so that we can continue to serve our community at a time they need it most. Your partnership is crucial to our ability to deliver on our mission to promote the growth, development and independence of people with disabilities through programs of therapy, education and work opportunity.
Just as our staff and educators are a lifeline for families, kids, and clients this year, you are our lifeline.
Onward & Upward,
President & CEO
It’s Hard to Imagine a More Challenging Beginning. Or a More Promising Future.
Juana didn't meet the son she gave birth to until he was ten days old.
It was the summer of 2017. She was five months pregnant. When the weather turned extremely hot, it aggravated her asthma.
“The air quality was bad,” Juana (pronounced JAAN-uh) says. “I kept going back and forth to the hospital saying I couldn't breathe.”
Once in a hospital room, Juana went into cardiac arrest. To save both Juana and her baby, doctors placed her into a medically induced coma and delivered Terrance via C-section at just 26 weeks.
“He was a micro preemie,” Juana says. “He was in the NICU for three months.”
A few weeks after Terrance came home to his mom and older sister, a public health nurse noticed he was behind on some milestones. She recommended Early Supports services from Northwest Center Kids.
“I knew of Northwest Center because I have a cousin who has Downs syndrome and he worked with them,” Juana says. “My aunt completely recommended Northwest Center as well. But I didn't know anything going into this about what occupational therapy was or what Terrance needed.”
The Northwest Center Kids Early Supports (Kids ES) team quickly put her at ease.
“They came to my home,” she says. “We did an initial consultation with Melinda [Bourgette, a family resources coordinator].
Then the occupational therapist and the physical therapist assessed Terrance individually, and he qualified for weekly visits.”
The family-centered, home-based approach worked well for Juana and Terrance.
“They make it very easy,” she says. “There was a speech therapist, a nutritionist and an occupational therapist to make sure he was eating, and a physical therapist for him to learn how to sit up, then stand, and then walk.”
One aspect she liked best was that the team individualized strategies for Terrance “instead of lumping him in a big group,” Juana says. “They just said, “'Okay, we’ll take it step by step, try a couple things to see if he likes it. We’ll see where he's moving forward and nurture that.'”
The team was also able to provide items for the family like a high chair so Terrance, who had spent his first weeks using a feeding tube, could practice sitting and feeding himself; and orthotics to help him walk, decorated with airplanes and fire trucks.
As Terrance progressed, his services changed to work toward the family’s new goals and focus. “He started eating regularly, so we didn't need the occupational therapy anymore,” Juana says. “He started walking and running normally, so we didn’t need the orthotics anymore.”
New Challenges, Steadfast Support
Speech therapy continued, and things were going well. But then COVID-19 brought new challenges for Juana.
“After having the heart attack, my immune system wasn't so great,” she says. “My asthma still wasn't under control. I was worried about catching Coronavirus. Plus I was on this heavy medication that made me gain weight, so I wasn't able to do much.”
To keep families safe, the Early Supports program quickly pivoted to teletherapy. Like most people at the time, Juana had never heard of Zoom, so the team supported her as she navigated the new system, then came up with creative ways to connect in a safe, socially distanced way.
“Our first Zoom meeting had the occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist, and [family resources coordinator] Melinda so we could do our yearly review,” Juana remembers. “They said, ‘If you need anything, just let us know, and we'll be able to drop it off.’”
And they were true to their word.
“I needed help with everything, basically, during the pandemic,” says Juana. “When I needed a stroller, Melinda said, ‘Of course,’ and she brought me the stroller that we use to this day. It was a brand-new stroller! If I needed diapers, she was right there. And then she would bring me extra things. She would say, ‘Hey, I brought some wipes and I brought some masks.’ Toothpaste and toothbrush, diaper cream clothing and shoes for him, so I wouldn't have to go out and get those things.”
Then, in April 2020, a new worry: Terrance, now two-and-a-half years old, had stopped talking and had become more withdrawn. The Kids ES team referred Terrance to Seattle Children’s Hospital for a virtual evaluation. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
The first thing the Kids ES team did was make sure Juana was okay. (“They said, ‘How are you feeling? Do you need more support?’” she says.) Then they once again adjusted their services to address Terrance’s new needs.
They reassured Juana: “’Now we know, and now we can move forward,’ they said.”
But the stress began to take its toll.
Once again, her family resources coordinator was there to provide equitable services and support.
“Melinda was like, ‘Let’s pull up those files on Zoom, and we can get them filled out, and I can come over and have you sign them, and then I can send them out for you.’ That was why I was able to register him for SSI and why I was able to register him for school.”
Then Terrance began hurting himself.
“He was scratching himself—his legs, his stomach, his arms,” Juana says. “It was starting to worry me a lot; I didn't want him to use that as some kind of coping mechanism. It was leaving a ton of open wounds and scars.”
Juana was so overwhelmed that when she tried to ask her team for suggestions, she burst into tears.
“It wasn't just over him scratching himself. It was about the pandemic. It was about the Black Lives Matter marches—I have a Black son. I was just so scared of life in general. There were so many things to be worried about at that time, and then him being diagnosed with autism and scratching himself. I just broke down.”
Ready for the Future
Northwest Center Kids Early Supports responded with new strategies and even more support—for both mother and son.
Weighted blankets helped Terrance feel more secure.
Juana set up a daily schedule for Terrance, similar to one he would follow when he starts school, so he’d get used to a new routine. She was skeptical, “But it worked!” she says.
Because Juana liked singing to Terrance, they encouraged her to sing to help calm him. “They suggested all these songs I already know,” Juana says. “I hadn’t even thought of that. That has actually been the most helpful by far.”
The team made sure to check on Juana, too. “Melinda would send me things to my phone like a happy birthday GIF. She would let me know that everybody's thinking about me.”
And, when the holidays approached, Kids ES came through for the family again. When Juana was unable to buy gifts or find other assistance, “I called up Melinda a week and a half before Christmas,” she says. “She literally showed up with a shopping cart full of gifts for both of my kids.”
Today, Terrance is 3 and attends pre-K classes at a school where the staff includes autism specialists. Juana says that moving on from Northwest Center services made her sad, “But they made it a happy sad, you know?” she says.
“I wouldn't have been able to get him to this point without those services. I was so fortunate to have these services, especially during a pandemic. I’m extremely grateful.”
Even more important, “Now I'm confident moving to the next stage,” she says, “and I know that Terrance is more confident in himself. Everything that we've done with Northwest Center, I've been included. And it wasn't even about Terrance having a disability; it was about him as an individual. In the end, they were able to give me tools so I can run the household better and take care of Terrance a lot better, especially with autism.
“I understand that he will be in therapy for a long time,” Juana says, “but it’s just his journey. He's the sweetest, funniest little kid. I just want him to live a happy life.”
It’s an average work day at Bean Box for Alex. At a long row of tables, he packs samples of fragrant coffee into boxes to be mailed out to subscribers. He chats with employees who stop by to drop off supplies. He joins coworkers in the break area at lunch.
The fact that this day is so average is what makes it so important, says Alex’s mom Larisa. Because until very recently, she wasn’t sure it would happen at all.
Alex, who was diagnosed with Autism as child, has spent much of his life excluded from social activity with peers, his mom says. “Alex can’t really read social cues, so it’s tough for him.”
Work has posed more challenges. When Alex was working in a mail room as part of a school-to-work transition program, he became overwhelmed, walked away, and got lost.
“Then they put a full-time assistant with him,” Larisa remembers. “But they said, ‘We’re not sure he’s going to be in any kind of paid position ever.’ We didn’t have much hope.”
After graduation in 2020, Alex found a warehouse job through Northwest Center Employment Services, but he had trouble adjusting to an unpredictable work schedule.
The one bright spot in Alex’s week was playing Special Olympics sports. Then COVID-19 struck.
“When everything got closed down, he was crushed for months,” Larisa says. “He was not able to connect with anybody.”
Then, in late summer 2020, Northwest Center Employment Services got a call from Ben Adler, director of operations for Seattle-based coffee subscription company Bean Box. Adler was interested in hiring people with disabilities because his mother has taught special education for 20 years. “She always talked about people in terms of what they’re capable of doing,” he says. “Instead of focusing on disability, she focused on ability.”
“I like this job,” Alex says. “I get to talk to other people. I really enjoy that I get to work at Bean Box.”
“It’s a big thing for Alex to be engaged,” Larisa continues. “At Bean Box, people are nice to him and he understands what he’s supposed to do. They treat him like a valued team member.”
That’s because Alex, and every other client hired through Northwest Center Employment Services, is a valued team member, says Adler. “We’re not just providing people with work; we’re able to get things done more efficiently because they’re really good at the things that they’re doing every day,” he says.
And while Alex still has job coaches as he works to answer questions and help him stay on task, these days he needs much less support.
“I am really, really hopeful that eventually Alex will be able to go in by himself, start the task, and finish the shift,” says Larisa. “Even a year ago, we thought that would never happen. But now I see it happening.”
'What if, rather than seeing a person’s disabilities, we focused on the abilities that every person brings?'
Spend 10 minutes immersed in an inclusive world, and love every minute. “All Abilities,” a short film about Northwest Center created by Seattle Pacific University (SPU) and Untamed Pictures, is part of the SPU film series Faith & Co. featuring businesses that are about more than just “doing business.”
The film captures the benefits of inclusion at Northwest Center, from more efficient workplaces to the joy of befriending people who see the world in a different way. You’ll meet a family whose little boy has been part of NWC Kids since he was born; a man whose long job search led him to success at Puget Sound Laundry Services; and a woman with Down syndrome who’s the perfect employee at one of our Early Learning centers.
Please take a few minutes to watch “All Abilities.” We believe it is time well spent.
This article was written by NWC Communications intern and Integrated Facility Services employee Trevor Pacelli. Trevor is a self-advocate who has written several books about his experiences with autism.
On December 18, 2007, the UN General Assembly named April 2 “World Autism Awareness Day,” which, every year since then, has kicked off World Autism Awareness Month. Days like this are necessary because, by the National Autistic Society’s estimate, approximately six million people wrongly think autism has a potential cure. Despite how far we’ve come in learning about it compared to 30 years ago, there is still a long way to go for autism to be commonly accepted as another way of living, rather than a sign of lesser intelligence.
One common fact about autism I personally would like others to know is that what may be a minor inconvenience to you can distress an autistic person past their ability to cope. In my experience, that inconvenience has been conversations. I’m often so caught up inside my own thoughts that, when someone suddenly approaches me for a conversation, I’m freaking out deep down; I cannot think of stuff to say other than single-syllable responses. I really want others to understand that about me, and to understand that others similar to me have a struggle much like mine.
In the next five years, I hope to see more knowledge of the spectrum publicly applied into everyday life so people with autism can be accepted as equals, with their unique needs also met. Northwest Center is working to accomplish that very thing, as we were founded on principles of securing education for children with disabilities so they can live fulfilling lives and have successful careers.
From the very start, Northwest Center has led the inclusion revolution. In the early 1960s, four Seattle moms started their own schools where children with disabilities could learn and grow. Their goal was to provide education to children who were barred from public schools. It didn’t take long for other parents to join in, and in 1965 Northwest Center officially opened its doors to students with disabilities from across Seattle.
Our founding mothers spent the rest of their careers as advocates working towards a future where people of all abilities can receive an education, find meaningful employment, and reach their full potential.
As we kick off National Developmental Disability Awareness Month, we’re proud to be an organization that helps build inclusive communities for people of all abilities, from Early Learning classrooms where kids with and without disabilities share learning and playtime, and in employment services where we find employment opportunities that are meaningful and beneficial to both our clients and their employers.
And because 33% of our own organization is made up of people with a documented disability, we understand that not only are inclusive workplaces great for business, bringing better efficiency, retention, and other benefits, but also that working with people of all abilities builds strong friendships, connections, and partnerships that last for life.
Stories like that of Preston, Laethan, Sandra, Jackson, Anna, and Sandy are just the tip of the iceberg. Their experiences show the strength our community gains when people of all abilities learn and work together.
Our founding mothers started an inclusion revolution. But we’re just getting started.
Once again, Northwest Center is heading toward a remarkable anniversary. May 25, 2021 is the 50th anniversary of the passage of House Bill 90, “Education for All,” the Washington state law our founders wrote to guarantee a public education for children with disabilities. HB 90 led directly to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which impacted every ZIP code in the U.S. We’re excited to celebrate this milestone. But we also recognize how much further we have to go.
At this writing, public-school systems in Washington are under federal scrutiny for reports that students with disabilities have not been receiving the educational services they are guaranteed by law. Similar issues are sadly--and unacceptably—widespread. COVID-19 forced schools to go remote, resulting in children with disabilities nationwide being denied equal education. It’s a failure that further clouds a painful, turbulent time.
It may be difficult to look forward to greater equity, recovery, and peace as we remain in the throes of a pandemic and still very much troubled by injustice. But just as our founding mothers did what some thought was impossible in 1971, Northwest Center is planning for the future with determination and a renewed sense of purpose.
The events of the past year reminded us just how essential our mission of inclusion is for all communities. As we embark on our strategic plan for the coming decade, central to our strategy is our North: a world where 100% of kids have equitable access to education, and the employment rate for people with disabilities is the same as that of the general population. And our mission of inclusion intersects abilities, races, ethnicities, genders, orientations, and identities. We are committed to embodying that intersection and working alongside community partners as we expand our services.
While we are rightly proud of Northwest Center’s history, we are even more proud to count so many incredible families, supporters, businesses, employers, and organizations as partners in delivering on our mission.
We’re committed to making inclusive early education a reality for thousands more children as our IMPACT team continues to train educators and childcare directors. We’re committed to helping more parents of young children find the early intervention services they need. We’re committed to finding meaningful employment opportunities for more clients as we expand into Idaho and partner with amazing organizations like Swedish Edmonds. And with your partnership, we’re looking forward to being able to come together again, to build the trust, joy, and opportunity that every person of every ability and from every background deserves.
Join us, and let’s commit to making that change together.
Onward and upward,
Northwest Center Employment Services is now operating in the state of Idaho, an expansion that will allow us to begin helping people with disabilities find employment opportunities in Kootenai, Shoshone, Benewah, Bonner, and Boundary counties.
Northwest Center Employment Services serves both youth and adult populations at every stage in their careers, and our consultants will work with businesses to find solutions as well—and consultation is free!
“Northwest Center is proud and excited to expand our Employment Services into the state of Idaho,” says Ryan Newell, Regional Director. “With Idaho’s ever-growing economy and abundance of opportunity, we are able to expand our mission and help bridge the unemployment gap for people with disabilities. We are eager to serve.”
Our Employment Services are backed by more than 60 years of experience providing people with disabilities and their employers with support such as:
Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan Wins 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional
Northwest Center could not be prouder to announce that Job Coach and Employment Specialist Debra Tan is the winner of the 2020 Governor’s Employer Award for Direct Support Professional from the Governor’s Committee on Disability Issues and Employment!
This award recognizes an individual who has made meaningful inclusive employment opportunities a reality for individuals with disabilities. Deb could not be more deserving of this honor. In fact, it was Deb’s team members in Northwest Center Employment Services who nominated her for this award with impassioned endorsements of her work.
“It takes a special person to devote 25 years to social services, while keeping her fire and passion like it’s day one,” said one coworker. “Deb has devoted her 25-year career to employment services, 18 of which she has spent making Northwest Center Employment Services a better place to work. Deb maintains that passion and grit every day.”
Onna captured hearts in 2015 during Northwest Center’s 50th anniversary. With her little pink coat and impish smile, the “Dancing Iron Baby” (a nickname from her parents, inspired by Onna’s joy and strength) was featured on Northwest Center anniversary ad campaigns. Five years later, Northwest Center is celebrating our 55th anniversary year, and Onna is now attending third grade where she is fully included with kids of all abilities, and still “dancing through life,” according to her mom Marija. Here’s what Marija had to say:
Q: Do you still call Onna the Dancing Iron Baby?
A: Oh no, we are not allowed to call Onna a baby any longer! Those are clear orders from the boss herself! She is no baby now and won’t let anyone call her anything other than by her first name. But she still dances through this life with such determination and pride, despite the systemic and structural barriers she experiences on a daily basis.
Q: How has Onna met or surpassed your expectations for her when she was a baby, when she was at NWC Kids, and now?
A: Onna has always been Onna, and that she will continue to be—disabled and fully proud of her disability as part of her identity, culture, and community. And we fully embrace and celebrate everything that she is. The only thing I’d say has changed over the years are my own expectations—not towards her, but towards society.
When you start this journey, you are surrounded by well-intentioned people trying to help “fix” your kid or teach her how to mask her disability and to make her appear as indistinguishable and as “normal” as possible so that she “fits in.” But imagine a life of never being accepted for everything that you are, for your humanity; always having your membership in the society conditional on how well you “fit in,” how much you appear to be “normal.” People with disabilities are valuable and worthy members of our society just as they are.
While there exists a lot of discrimination and barriers for disabled folks, those are the fault of society, not inherent in anyone’s impairments. So, it is not Onna and those like her that need fixing, but it is our society that needs to be fixed and step up to ensure access, inclusion and equitable opportunities in life, and full membership of all individuals.
Every step toward a more inclusive world is a step toward a better world. So yes, we expect and demand this societal change, and we teach Onna that she unapologetically demands her membership in this world.
Q: How have things changed since you had your little boy? What is their relationship like?
A: Onna is a very empathetic child and finds it challenging when others are crying and upset. And we all know how much babies cry! So it took some time for Onna to get used to a baby in the house. But her brother Corbijn is a big boy now and they have a wonderful relationship. They are great support for each other and look out for each other. Occasionally, we may have difficulty in understanding what Onna is communicating to us, but her brother always understands her perfectly.
Bridging Generations: With Northwest Center Early Intervention and the Seattle Developmental Bridge Program, both Grandparent and Grandchild get the Support they Need
It’s challenging for any parent to seek help for a child with special needs. It was even harder for Sandra, whose deep distrust of programs for kids with disabilities went back decades.
When Sandra was a child in a Seattle special needs program, she felt marginalized both for her cognitive difficulties and for being Black. Teachers would speak too quickly or use terms she did not know, making her feel like her understanding didn’t matter to them as much as that of her white classmates.
When Sandra had her first child, the cycle continued: her daughter was also placed in special education and experienced the same frustrations.
By the time Sandra recognized that Destiny, the granddaughter she was raising, needed support with her cognition and communication, she was hesitant to once again put her trust in a system that had let her and her family down—especially as a single parent with a low income who had already raised multiple children. But she overcame her initial fears so that Destiny, who was born drug-exposed, could begin Early Supports (ES) therapy with Northwest Center Kids.
Catching Up with Preston: He Starred in Commercials About His Job as a Greeter. Five Years Later, He’s a Great Communicator.
If Preston looks familiar to you, we’re not surprised. You might be one of the thousands of community members he’s gotten to know as a greeter at a local QFC store. Or you may have seen him on TV: five years ago, when Northwest Center was celebrating our 50th anniversary, Preston starred in a television commercial that shared how an inclusive workplace isn’t just good for him—it’s good for all of us.
As we mark our 55th anniversary, Northwest Center caught up on how Preston is doing these days. Though he’s not been able to work due to COVID-19, Preston is still checking in remotely with his Northwest Center Employment Services team. And while he’s only been able to visit his coworkers a few times, his mom Stacy tells us that Preston has greatly expanded both his spoken and written communication skills over the past five years, and more recently has become a texting and Facetiming pro. Here’s our conversation with Stacy:
Q: What’s been the biggest change in Preston over the past five years?
A: I would say his communication skills. He has learned the value of communication and it brings him a lot of joy. He used to talk to us, but did not use sentences. About two-and-a-half years ago, he started working with a speech-language pathologist. One of the things we were working on pre-COVID was the concept of conversations and how you take turns speaking and ask people questions. And now Preston is not the same as far as speech and communicating with people. I am just amazed and so happy for him. Preston has started talking a lot more. Last night at dinner, we were laughing because everyone had finished except Preston because he’d been talking the entire time.
A page from founder Janet Taggart’s scrapbook of Northwest Center’s dedication ceremony on September 14, 1965.
One of Northwest Center’s first students, Debra Walruff, with Naval officers on the day the center was dedicated. Our first facility was formerly owned by the U.S. Navy.
Established in 1965, over the past 55 years Northwest Center has made considerable progress on the journey toward our North: a world where 100% of kids of all abilities have equitable access to education, and the employment rate for people with disabilities is the same as that of the general population.
In March 2020, the world changed dramatically, as did the enormity of our challenge to continue North. But we’re more steadfast than ever about achieving that goal.
It’s safe to say none of us could foresee the situation we’re all in right now. But the Northwest Center community has proven that in the face of incredibly difficult times, we come together.
Immediately after COVID-19 hit, OneNWC leaned in together and continued to deliver on our mission: our Kids and Employment Services teams pivoted to remote therapy, Zoom classroom sessions, and creative ways to keep clients’ job skills sharp. Meanwhile, the essential workers at our businesses stayed on the front lines providing critical cleaning, laundry, office management and staffing services to the companies and medical facilities we serve. Read more about how our teams rose to the challenge.
Our IMPACT team used teleconferencing to expand their trainings to hundreds more attendees in each session. As of this writing, they’ve reached an astounding 17,000 children since 2018--read the full story here.
Parents and supporters inundated our teachers, staff, and service providers with grateful letters, then spearheaded a spring campaign to help bridge the gap left by reductions in our commercial businesses. Other donors provided telecommunications devices for therapy so children didn’t miss a single milestone. Now we’re gearing up for a reimagined fundraising event as The Derby goes virtual (and free) but the fun remains. Join us for The Derby on October 23.
Of course, these times have been riddled with hardship—particularly for the people with disabilities we serve. For many of them, staying home from work means missing not only the sense of purpose a job can bring, but also a critical opportunity to connect with other people. As all of us followed stay-at-home mandates, something occurred to me: the isolation, job uncertainty, and monotony of our days all sounded a lot like what many people with disabilities face EVERY day. We wrote about this in a recent issue of the Seattle Times. That realization left us only more determined that North is—has to be—an achievable goal.
Join Northwest Center as we continue our journey North. Because until all of us are fully included, none of us will reach our potential.
Onward and Upward,
For nearly a year, Northwest Center Employment Services clients have been collaborating with musicians from the Seattle Symphony to compose a new orchestral piece. Best Buddies of Washington also joined the partnership to connect NWC clients and symphony musicians in friendship. The piece Northwest Center and the Symphony have composed together, titled “Together, This Journey,” was set to debut at the Symphony’s Beethoven Festival in June. Unfortunately, COVID-19 put all live performances on hold. But that hasn’t stopped our crews from continuing to collaborate at a distance on music and fun.
During Washington state’s stay-at-home order, NWC and Symphony folks shared some of the music that was getting them through the quarantine—classical and non-classical alike. Click the links to enjoy some favorites from our teams (thanks to Erica Brody, Director, Mission Advancement for Best Buddies Washington for compiling):
In June, “Together, This Journey” was the topic of a discussion with composer Charles Corey and Seattle Symphony principal oboe Mary Lynch as part of the Symphony’s Digital Beethoven Fest. Listen to the conversation here.
In July, Seattle newspaper The Stranger shared the group’s Message to the City that includes their wishes for the future and their thanks to our first responders. Watch the Northwest Center, Best Buddies, and Symphony message here.
While we’re not yet sure when “Together, This Journey” will finally get the live performance it deserves, we’re grateful to our Northwest Center composers, the Seattle Symphony, and Best Buddies for giving all of us something to look forward to.
Digital Beethoven Fest photo courtesy of Seattle Symphony.
Northwest Center celebrates 55 years of inclusion on September 14, 2020, and the U.S. recently celebrated 30 years of the ADA. Northwest Center founder Janet Taggart recently shared her thoughts on both in this video interview.
We may have to stay socially distanced, but Northwest Center services can’t stop—kids with disabilities still need therapy to reach their milestones, preschoolers need interaction with classmates and teachers, adults with disabilities need to keep their work skills sharp, and the businesses we partner with need essential services. Here are some ways the Northwest Center community has been rising to the challenge of COVID-19.
Northwest Center Kids
Learning in Circles: How Virtual Education Keeps Kids Connected
Hang on to your hats! This year, for the first time ever, we’re off to the races at a social distance as Northwest Center’s Derby gala goes virtual! On Friday, October 23, our biggest fundraising event will be streamed live on YouTube from Fremont Studios—with plenty of audience interaction. And registration for this year’s event is FREE.
Chris Cashman of KING5 will take guests through a program filled with fun, entertainment, and philanthropic excitement, while nationally known fundraising auctioneer Fred Northup will do his part to inspire guests to beat last year’s $300,000 fundraising goal.
Though we won’t dine in person, guests can still do it up for Derby dinner with fresh-from-scratch, hand-delivered meals created by renowned chef and longtime Northwest Center supporter John Howie of restaurants Seastar, SPORT, John Howie Steak, Beardslee Public House, and distillery Wildwood Spirits Co.
Every year, the big Derby draw is our live and silent auctions, and this year is no different—except guests will bid virtually using their computer, tablet, or mobile phone. (It’s easy and we’ll show you how.)
Though The Derby is free to attend, you do need to register to attend, bid, or donate—so be sure to register now right here. And mark your calendars: our silent auction of jewelry, gourmet food, and handcrafted, one-of-a-kind items opens on Monday, October 19.
We look forward to seeing you LIVE at the Derby on October 23. Click here to register for The Derby.
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