Military Special Needs Network

Proudly Supporting all Military Families with a Special Needs Dependent

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Evolution of Disability Rights


Today is the day we remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And for most Americans, this day, and Dr. King, are synonymous with Civil Rights. What many people may not realize is the contribution Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement played in the Disability Rights Movement. “[D]isability advocates saw the opportunity to join forces alongside other minority groups to demand equal treatment, equal access and equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The struggle for disability rights has followed a similar pattern to many other civil rights movements – challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes, rallying for political and institutional change, and lobbying for the self-determination of a minority community.” (Source:

The changing landscape of Disability Rights in the 1960s meant the enactment of many federal laws and programs set to improve the lives of those with disabilities: updating social security regulations to include those under age 50, President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, creation of Medicaid/Medicare, building codes demanding equal access for all persons, and many more. The changes didn’t stop in the 1970s: President Johnson had a panel on Mental Retardation, things that we take for granted like curb cutouts, handicap parking plaques, many state programs to help disabled adults live independently were developed across the country. (Source:

So much progress and yet:

These are the BIG issues. Many of these, we feel, are out of our hands – out of our control. But, let me tell you, Friends, there are battles being waged every single day for our children’s rights. Every single day there are people who know better, who stay silent and are complicit in our struggles to ensure our children have the best quality medical care, education and chance at life that they can possibly have. And, to me, this is a scorched earth policy – you are either with me in supporting my son and helping us – or – you are against me.

I’m looking at you: IEP Admin team; special ed teachers who just pass kids on to get them out of your hair; insurance companies who continually refuse to cover medicines or tests that may help our children live the best quality of life possible; school boards who have a hands-off policy when it comes to educating the special ed children; family members who refuse to acknowledge our children for who they are, thus short-changing them out of relationships with you; “friends” who have dropped us along the way, because our children have too many issues to deal with; business and organizations who discriminate against the disabled – even subtly; politicians who try to balance the budget on the backs of those who have nothing left to give, who deny that there is a mental health problem of epic proportions in this country, who cut education programs and disability funding – and then complain when people have the need to go on public assistance. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately.

There comes a time when we – You and I – need to make a stand. If not for our own children, for the others. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.


Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to three children; 16 year old NT, 6 and 5 year old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, she’s added a bun in the oven. Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays on special needs children entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She can also be found at, and as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. In her spare time, Kelly is the Blog Master for, and member of, the Military Special Needs Network Executive Board. You can contact her via email at

2 comments on “Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Evolution of Disability Rights

  1. Danielle
    September 9, 2013

    Hello I’m Danielle. I was wondering if I can get a lEP meeting from you guys. I have a three yr old. That needs to be in school. He has a disability. One is seizure. Plus ADHD. I’m trying to put him in school. But his doctor said he need a meeting first.

    • militaryspecialneedsnetwork
      September 9, 2013

      Hey Danielle,

      Your doctor is right. You need to contact the special education department of your local elementary school district. If you cannot find that information online or in the phone book, pop into your neighborhood school. The staff there can give you the name and phone number of the correct person.

      What will happen is that your son will have an appointment to go in to a special evaluation session. There, a trained educator will evaluate him to see where he fits, cognitively. You’ll have a ton of paperwork to fill out, so be prepared for that. Also, if your doctor could write a letter of introduction explaining your son’s diagnosis, symptoms and severity, that would be fabulous.

      Because he is three, yes, he would need an IEP – Individualized Education Plan. This outlines the special class (if any) he would need, any accommodations needed, as well as some goals to get him up to age-level in any areas of deficits.

      If you are a military family, your base has a School Liaison Officer, or the equivalent.

      If you are civilian, your local regional center (if applicable) may have input and an advocate who could help you.

      MSNN is an online support for military families with special needs. We do not have a brick and mortar store front, if you will. We can help you from online, though. And we’ll be very happy to.

      Keep us posted on how it goes and what you need from us.


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