Innovative companies across the country are embracing a new form of competitive advantage in the marketplace – the power of diversity and inclusion to improve business results. Disability advocates have implored businesses for decades to hire people with disabilities simply because it is the right thing to do, as if inclusion is a reluctant compromise made in the admirable spirit of giving back to the community.
But our experience at Northwest Center suggests that we have been looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. What we have found is that the harder we work to build, nurture, and leverage a Neurodiverse workforce, the more successful our businesses are. Coincidence? We don’t think so.
For one thing, we find the same correlation between inclusion and business performance in each of our businesses.
Every day, damaged and worn-out clothes, shoes and linens are thrown into the trash because some people think these items can’t be reused or recycled. That is why The Big Blue Truck™ has partnered with King County and Seattle Public Utilities to let the public know that these items can be donated through a program called Threadcycle. We’re asking everyone to give all their clothes, shoes and linens (as long as they are not wet, mildewed or soiled with hazardous materials) to Northwest Center instead of tossing them away.
When you ask a longtime Northwest Center board or staff member about Katie Dolan, certain words come up over and over again: dynamic, charming, tenacious, audacious. It’s no surprise that Dolan, one of the founders of Northwest Center, is still revered nearly ten years after her death in 2006 at age 82. A tribute written by Northwest Center staff at that time remembers Dolan as always “doing what couldn’t be done.”
It is with great sadness that Northwest Center shares that Cecile Lindquist passed away in 2019. Cecile was inspired to work for the education of children with disabilities by her cousin Tommy, who had Down syndrome. She joined with Seattle mothers of kids with disabilities to found Northwest Center, and then to write and pass the very first law in the nation, House Bill 90 or “Education for All,” to mandate public education for children with disabilities. But Cecile’s work didn’t stop there—in fact, it never stopped. The 2015 profile of Cecile below demonstrates how passionate, dedicated, and hardworking she remained on behalf of all children for her entire life. We are grateful to Cecile Lindquist for her lifetime of service. We were blessed to have her friendship. She is greatly missed.
It’s been more than 50 years since Cecile Lindquist first served as president of the Northwest Center Board of Directors. But she’s just as likely today to press a flier about a proposed education bill into your hand, ask you to contact your elected officials, and work with local parents of kids with developmental disabilities.
In the early 1960s, Lindquist was a high school teacher with degrees in political science and education. She helped found what would later become Northwest Center when her cousin Tommy, who had Down syndrome, was rejected by Seattle public schools.
She went on to serve on the team that wrote and lobbied to pass House Bill 90 (HB 90), Education for All, the first law in the nation mandating public education for all children regardless of disability. By the time HB 90 passed, Tommy was too old to benefit. But Lindquist went on to spend the next five decades helping make education available for countless other kids like him.
Not long after Northwest Center was founded in 1965, Lindquist took a job with the Experimental Education Unit (EEU) of the University of Washington, a school for children with and without disabilities, working both in admissions and as community relations manager - “Which I loved,” she says now. In fact, Lindquist loved the job so much she stayed there for more than 30 years. Her boss there was the founder of EEU, Norris Haring, PhD, who proved to be exceptionally understanding when Lindquist needed to juggle work duties with the time she was devoting to writing and lobbying to pass HB 90.
“I said, ‘Dr. Haring, I don’t know what to do because I’m going to work with a lot of mothers and fathers; we’re going to change the law,’” she remembers. “‘What if I have to leave for a meeting?’ He said, ‘Just go to the meeting. This is all part of the same thing, providing what is needed for these children.’”
When HB 90 was signed into law in 1971, Lindquist was the only woman from the original team who wrote the bill to be asked to serve on the rules and regulations committee. She was not pleased by this, to put it mildly. She and Janet Taggart, who also worked on the bill, recount the story:
“We get the law passed, and that was really a big accomplishment,” Lindquist begins. “The State Superintendent of Schools set up a committee to write the rules and regulations, every bill has to have one. And honest to God, they only put Bill Dussault [a law student who also helped write HB 90] and me on it!”
“Not wanting the rest of us,” says Taggart.
“I just erupted,” Lindquist says. “I called the State Superintendent of Schools, who I didn’t know very well, you know? I said, ‘This is just outrageous, because this fight and this crusade came from the parents! They have to be on this, writing the regulatory language!’”
At first, the rules committee wouldn’t budge. “At the first meeting, there were enough chairs for all the committee members, but not us,” Taggart recalls. “They said they were ‘Really sorry,’ but they didn’t have any chairs. So we sat on the floor,” she shrugs.
“But we made a big enough stink that they eventually put everyone on the committee,” Lindquist says.
More Coverage for More Kids
It took two years for HB90 to be implemented statewide. By that time, Lindquist was on to her next challenge. HB 90 mandated that public schools serve children of any ability from age 5 to 21; she set out to get the starting age lowered to 3.
“I had heard from parents who said, ‘My little guy got in at 5, but he lost so much time, waiting to get to that age,’ or, ‘It’s great what you did, but my younger child is ready to get help, and there isn’t any.’ I knew how critical it was to lower the age, because by then I was working at the EEU and saw how important those early years are. So I said, ‘Well, we’re just gonna have to put together a team of new families.’”
Lindquist started “a coalition of young moms and who had little guys. They were a feisty group,” she says. “It took us ’til ’84 to get this law passed, just changing the age range so that all children with disabilities, 3 to 21, would be served.”
The years it took were challenging for Lindquist. “We kept working and working and working, and finally I talked to a Republican Senior Senator from Bellevue, Dan MacDonald. I said, ‘Dan, I don’t understand. It didn’t take us very long to get the bill passed for 5 to 21.’
“He just looked at me and said, ‘Cecile, they’ve caught up with you. They’ve realized when you guys start to push something, it’s gonna be a big cost to the State.’ Ha! I was quiet and then I said, ‘But Dan, I know you know it’s the right thing to do.’ He was one of the Republicans who stuck with us on HB 90. It wasn’t too long until he told me, ‘I’m gonna help you.’ He made the difference to push it through.”
Senator Barney Goltz made a big difference, too. It was 1984, and Lindquist was in Olympia, trying for the fourth year in a row to get the State Senate to pass the bill. “Barney Goltz was running the Senate. It was the last day. The time is ticking away and we’re all sitting in the gallery, and I’m wondering how I’m going to keep the parent group active. Finally, I stood up and I went like this (she makes a pleading, desperate face) to Barney. He said, ‘Oh!’ Then he pounded the gavel and said, ‘We were going to hear the bill on school for children starting at age 3. I don’t care how late we’re here; we will discuss this.’ And that bill passed after-hours.”
Another decade of working with children with developmental disabilities, and Lindquist knew the next logical step: that intervention and education should start at birth. “That was the next project,” she says with typical matter-of-fact delivery. She joined up with another group of mothers led by Cassie Johnston (“Just a wonderful, warm person who was able to connect with people around the state”). Though organizations like Northwest Center had provided early intervention to children from birth since the 1980s, the state law mandating such services wasn’t passed until 2006.
Lindquist is now retired, but still an active advocate for families of children with developmental disabilities. In 2010, she worked on a bill that ensured that services for children with disabilities would come not from the Department of Social and Health Services, but from the Department of Early Learning. “Those people are the early childhood experts,” she says. Just this past spring, another group of families enlisted her help in lobbying the state legislature for additional funding to help identify disabilities and delays in infants.
“For me, it’s the fairness, it’s the equity,” she says of her work. “Ensuring that a child with a disability has absolutely the same rights as any other child. They’re all children. They all need to have the best possible opportunity to use their own skills.”
The following profile of Northwest Center founder Janet Taggart was first published in 2015. Since that time, Naida Taggart, the daughter of Janet and the late Phillip Taggart, passed away in 2018. Naida was her parents’ inspiration to fight for an equal education for children with disabilities. Naida entered public school at age 12 upon the passage of House Bill 90, “Education For All,” that her mother helped write and lobby into law. This law mandated that children with disabilities have access to an appropriate education at public expense as guaranteed by the constitution of Washington state. Naida thrived in the environment and became a proud Special Education student at Pacific School. Naida’s family remembers her this way: “In spite of not being able to speak, Naida accomplished all of her goals by the use of limited sign and body languages and gestures to communicate her preferences. We are so grateful to have had Naida in our lives and family. She gave us love, revelation and fun.” Our condolences to the Taggart family and everyone who knew and loved Naida Taggart.
She helped found Northwest Center and helped change the world for children with disabilities. But the way Janet Taggart sees it, she just did what she had to do.
Taggart’s daughter Naida was born in 1956 with a developmental disability and cerebral palsy. At the time, kids like her were considered “uneducable” and housed in institutions. It was those institutions that first sparked Taggart’s activism for people with disabilities. “A local institution had weekend tours. For a price, you could look at all the ‘funny people,’” she says with disgust. “That was to me the absolute bottom. Hell.”
The Electronetics Problem-Solver: If Lawrence Doesn't Have the Right Tool for the Job, He Makes His Own
You could call him MacGyver. Like the early ’90s TV character, 19-year-old Lawrence has made innovative, time-saving tools out of household objects like empty soup cans and AA batteries ever since he was a child. But instead of thwarting secret plots against the US Government, Lawrence uses his skills to solve business problems for his employers at Electronetics, LLC.
Onna’s personality is perfectly summed up by her parents’ nickname for her: Dancing Iron Baby.
“She’d been through so much, but her little feet, as a baby, they were always dancing,” explains her mother Marija. “She was always moving along, pushing.”
But while the nickname is perfect now, it’s one that Marija and her husband might not have imagined at first. Because when Onna was born with a heart condition and Down syndrome, Marija remembers, “The whole experience with the diagnoses is initially very negative. You’re not told, ‘Oh, your child has a Trisomy 21,’” she says in a chipper way. “You’re told,” -- now she shifts her voice to a hushed, ultra-serious tone -- “‘I’m so sorry. Your child has this diagnosis.’ So your expectations are not very high.”
For some, it can take a lifetime. But for Larissa, finding the job of her dreams came just a year after joining the workforce.
“I. Love. This. Job. I’ve loved it ever since my first volunteering day,” she says, seated in a classroom at the Easter Seals Washington Child Development Center. It’s a place Larissa has volunteered for six years because she loves working with kids, but where she officially became an employee in July. She’s now a support teacher at Easter Seals Washington, assisting classroom leads with supervising and attending to the children’s daily activities.
He benches 400 pounds and has his eye on the world record. He spends his weekends at church teaching kids about personal health, and his work week at the Pacific Science Center gaining job skills. He’s got a big heart and even bigger aspirations for his future.
His name is Tevin, and two years ago, he called himself “a shy guy” with a speech impediment and a goal to one day become a full-time personal trainer. These days, he’s quite comfortable speaking to the large crowds who attend movies at the Pacific Science Center’s IMAX Theater or shows at the Laser Dome, and his progress toward personal training certification is right on track.
Jacob is more than just an employee at Cafe 50, a restaurant and coffee shop on the Microsoft campus; he’s an Ambassador. The job title is printed on his uniform apron, and he points to it proudly.
“He has a huge sense of pride,” says his mother Jeanette. “It’s his first real, paying job. He has a uniform. He’s treated like just another member of the team.”
Jacob got his job busing trays and tidying tables at Cafe 50 through School to Work, a program where Northwest Center works with students in King County graduating from their high school transition program, helping them find a place in the workforce. According to Northwest Center Transition Services Manager Melanie Cates, both Microsoft and Compass Group, the company that manages the cafe, have greatly boosted their inclusive hiring efforts.
Northwest Center is pleased to announce that we have expanded our operations into Renton, WA -- home to Boeing's 737 plant, Paccar, Providence Health and Services, and of course our beloved Seattle Seahawks.
Our Assembly and Packaging division has been continually growing for years; a reflection of the quality of services we provide and in direct relation to our commitment to sustaining an inclusive workforce.
We continue to achieve perfect quality check scores with our most fastidious customers -- Seattle's largest retailers. By incorporating people of all abilities into our workforce we have allowed new business ideas to flourish, increased staff morale, reduced employee turnover, and grown market share. It is a powerful (and smart) vision for the future that we wish to share with all companies and organizations nationwide.
The new Renton facility is far more spacious than our previous location and well suited to our growing enterprises.
As we continue to broaden the scope of our services for people with developmental delays and disabilities, the new location also serves as a satellite office for our growing Employment Services and Client Services teams. In addition to relocating the Assembly and Packaging operations, our iconic Big Blue Trucks have also moved and are now based in Renton.
Northwest Center's corporate headquarters will remain in the South Park neighborhood.
Sitting at Craig’s work station is a small notebook, filled with dates and numbers dating back to 2005. Craig, a page assistant at the King County Library System’s Shoreline branch, has kept a tally of his productivity during every shift for nearly a decade -- making note of how many books he is able to assess and shelve during his three-hour shifts. Today, he has re-shelved 411 books -- nearly one book every 20 seconds.
When they learned their daughter Helena would be born with Down syndrome, Lisa and Joe Wasikowski knew they’d face some difficult choices. The one easy choice was to work with Northwest Center Early Supports for Infants and Toddlers (ESIT).
“Helena was in the NICU, and a social worker handed me a business card with Northwest Center info on it,” Lisa says. “By the time Helena came home from the hospital, we'd already met with our new team in our home and had formed a plan. She started therapy at three weeks old.”
Northwest Center is passionate about equal rights, anti-ableism, and full inclusion for people with disabilities. Thank you for reading.