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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.
The ADA Legacy Project

Moments in Disability History 6

The Right to Education Based on Brown v. Board of Education

Dr. Gunnar Dybwad was Professor of Human Development at the Florence Heller Graduate School of Brandeis University and an internationally known authority on developmental disabilities.

In 1954, early in his tenure as Executive Director of the then-named National Association for Retarded Children, Dr. Dybwad called attention to the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. He suggested that what Brown sought to recognize and change for African American children, that "separate facilities are inherently unequal," had enormous possibilities for children with disabilities as well.

The biggest breakthrough came in 1971 when attorney Thomas K. Gilhool, representing the Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Citizens v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (PARC v. Commonwealth), used Brown v. Board of Education in his arguments in a case that resulted in a landmark decision affirming the right to education at public expense and due process for children with disabilities.

The New York Times, on page one, quoted Dr. Dybwad: "The decision makes Pennsylvania the first state in the union to guarantee education and training to all of its children with developmental disabilities now and in the future."

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Brown v Board of Education
The court ruled that the right and opportunity to an education must be made available to all on equal terms, "all" meaning people of all races. Even though Brown made no reference to children with disabilities, it provided for 1971 and 1972 court decisions in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., that extended the right to a free public education to children with disabilities.

Four days later, on its editorial page, The New York Times called on the Congress to do that for all of the states of the United States. Within two months in the House of Representatives, and another month later in the United States Senate, what became section 504 was introduced, and shortly thereafter, what became the Education for All Handicapped Children's Act of 1975, was given birth as Public Law 94-142.

In these video clips, Dr. Dybwad speaks of the influence of the courts and Tom Gilhool speaks of Dr. Dybwad's influence on the courts.

Video: Gunnar Dybwad Re PARC Case

Video: Selections from an Oral History of Policy and Advocacy in Developmental Disabilities as Reflected in the Life and Works of Gunnar Dybwad Ph.D.:

The Contribution of the Courts to the Renewal of the Field of Mental Retardation

Gunnar Dybwad: Segment, The Right to Education

Video: Tom Gilhool Speaks About Gunnar Dybwad and Historic PARC Case

Gunnar Dybwad
Dr. Gunnar Dybwad

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The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.

This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.