In honor of the 100-year anniversary of Eastern Michigan University’s Department of Special Education, Porter Chair Speaker Colleen Wieck gave a lecture in the Student Center Wednesday about special education.
Wieck is director of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Development Disabilities, and she is the third guest speaker in the 2013-2014 Porter Chair Speaker Series at EMU.
In her presentation, Wieck discussed the development of special education in the US.
The education system began including disabled children in the 1950s. But these children were still separated from other students and were required to have the ability to walk, talk and use the bathroom without assistance.
Wieck told the audience that only 25 percent of the disabled population was able to participate in special education under those requirements. She said by the 1970s, still only 1 in 5 disabled students was granted the opportunity for education.
In the late 1970s, however, a new federal law said that states needed to create a timeline to eventually include all students in full education programs. By the end of the 1970s, America was working toward fair education for all students.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. This legislation is a milestone in the history of the disabled and it helped protect disabled Americans from discrimination.
A new idea started to come about and that was inclusion of all people with disabilities in normal society. Today, disabled rights aren’t as far along as they could be. In the 2000s, the National
Council of Disability said that no states were doing a good job for disabled people. Also, there has been little congressional action within the last ten years.
“Many people think that disabled history started with the ADA, but it was just another time and point in the story,” Wieck said.
Wieck also outlined how poorly cared for the disabled have been in the past.
She said “disability history” has been forgotten. According to Wieck, current special education is grounded in this history, and it is essential to look to the past in order to understand special education today.
“We don’t see things as they are, but as we are,” Wieck said. “If we have a positive attitude, we will see things with positivity and be more willing to change. That’s how we need to view things.”
This particular sentiment struck a chord with senior special education and cognitive impairment major James Stallings.
“I thought the part where she said ‘we don’t see things as they are, but as we are’ was very compelling,” Stallings said. “We as a society view things not as we should and as they are, but as what we want to see.”
Wieck highlighted a few historical events that contributed to the poor care and treatment disabled people receive.
She said the IQ test, created by Alfred Binet and popularized after modifications by Robert Goddard, played a large role in marginalizing the disabled. Much of Goddard’s work with the IQ test had to do with his mission to prevent the disabled from having children.
She said Goddard created a two-step process for identifying disabled.
First, he would decide if someone looked stupid. If the person was judged to be unintelligent based on appearance, they were required to take a written intelligence test.
At the time, people accepted that Goddard’s tests provided an adequate measurement of what an individual could do in terms of schooling and labor. No one challenged the tests or the results.
“Assessment tools are a way a person can control one’s future and decide that one is dumb and the other is not,” said Wieck.
Wieck said Goddard took his tests further by putting different factors, like behavior and IQ, together to determine whether people were mentally fit to go into the workforce, and if they were, what kind of work they can do. Because of Goddard’s intelligence tests, many people were sent to mental institutions without a chance to defend themselves.
Conditions at mental institutions were terrible at that time, according to Weick. Rooms were packed to the max with patients, who were only given minimal care. Patients in these institutions were often used in experiments without proper informed consent. Plus, people who were not licensed doctors usually conducted these experiments.
“She mentioned things that weren’t usually talked about in a classroom and that made her talk powerful,” said senior Megan Harper, an elementary education and early childhood education major.
Wieck said all of the horrible things she mentioned in her presentation are still occurring today, but under different names.
“We need to set a vision for the future and work towards it. We need to get rid of adverse treatments like straitjackets, hockey masks for disabled patients, water treatments and so on,” said Wieck. “We have to have more inclusion and positive support for the disabled. We need to start recognizing them as individuals and understand what they are trying to communicate to us.”
Thanks to today’s new technology and changes in the way the public perceives disabilities, disabled people can now be employed and maintain jobs that didn’t seem possible before.
“To all the students in here, no matter where you go, if you see something that doesn’t seem right, speak up. Don’t just let it happen,” said Wieck.
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