Chapter 9: Dr. Edwards Advocacy for Children and Adults with Disabilities
14:31:49:18 - 14:39:29:04
Lisa: So, Doctor Edwards, I wanted to talk to you a little bit or ask you a little bit about some of your advocacy, um, and when it is you feel you really became involved in the movement in earnest.
Dr. Edwards: Uh, let me see, in earnest... uh, well I think that, uh, I think my most effective work was... was performed in my educational practice as a school administrator. Okay. Every place that I've gone, it has been extremely important to me to see to it that the students - special needs students - got the best that our resources would offer. I did that at Eisenhower Middle School, I did it at the— my High School in New Brunswick, I did it at Chester High School. So I was working you might say on the ground, uh, on the ground from that perspective as opposed to doing a lot of demonstration in the streets. Uh, periodically I would be called to, uh, to speak at one of the gatherings. Uh, I remember on two occasions, uh, they had this big powwow and I forgot what hotel it was in but it was a major hotel. And we had the, uh, we had some of the representatives of state - state workers there who came out of the department of uh, of welfare who basically were letting us know how the state felt about certain issues. And I was incensed. And I just got up and I said: "Listen, we're kind of sick of hearing you guys who are apologists for the state. You see, it's important for us to begin to establish an, uh, an agenda that's going to see significant changes for the special needs population. So that was at one meeting. Another meeting we had down at the Fireman's, uh, I guess it's their headquarters on 4th Street? 4th and Arch, something like that. 4th and Race. But anyhow, I remember speaking about the, uh, the need for us to be a lot more assertive - a lot more aggressive. And protecting the rights of our children. Uh, we spoke about, uh, I spoke about the kind of money or savings that we make for the state when we allow our children to state at a home. You would think that they would bend over backwards to try to find the kind of money that we'd need to sustain them in a home situation. I said you need to stop walking around with your hat in your hand looking for a handout. You need to be a lot more demanding. I remember going to Harrisburg with Dee, this was funny - it was startling but it was funny. We went to Harrisburg - a group of us - we went to speak, and uh, Graynle and I were there, you know, he was sitting here, and of course I made my statement and then we went upstairs and we spoke with, um, John White, right? This big, great big long mahogany table must have had thirty people sitting around it, right? John White was there - he was the secretary of welfare at the time, right? And, uh, we started talking. And John was talking, John was talking. Now he was a friend of special needs, okay, John White was a friend, right? He started talking. Dee jumped on him started hollering and screaming. I said "Hey Dee, he's a good guy!" Dee didn't care, okay? Because she felt that he was not moving as fast as he should have. But it was so funny, it shocked me! (Laughs). But that was another kind of advocacy of the... out there in the world, outside of my building. Of course my work with vision for equality, I was on that board for several years and then the past - it's amazing how time flies - past five years I've been a part of the Disability Rights Network on their board. We'd meet quarterly out in Harrisburg. Uh, so these are some of the things that I've been doing. I remember something rather interesting when I went over to Chestnut High School. The teachers were complaining about the special needs children. They create this problem, that problem, that problem. I said okay - we gonna collect some data. Okay? We gonna collect some data. We gonna find out - we gonna find out who's creating the problems in this high school. Well needless to say, the special needs weren't any more problematic than the regular kids. So that put a stop to all this business about the special ed kids, you see, because you put the data out there, you know, you know. You have to speak the truth. Now here's the data, let's stop this nonsense about the special needs children. Uh, you see one of the problems, see, this is one of the problems with the special needs children. There are a significant number of staff member who had major problems with how the discipline code made accommodations for special needs children. Oh man, some teachers had major problems with that, you see. And the thing is, you know, hey listen this is the law so you just got to learn how to deal with it. This is the law. And I think that prompted some of the bias towards the special needs students - they're the trouble makers. They're the - well they weren't the trouble makers, you see. Uh, so, so so I did advocacy in different kinds of ways. In some instances out there speaking in public but more often than not in my buildings making sure that those special needs children were treated, uh, equally, and properly.
14:39:29:04 - 14:40:27:09
Lisa: Is that the area where you feel you were able to affect the greatest change?
Dr. Edwards: I would think so, yeah. I would think so. Now, of course, some people might disagree with that (laughs). Uh, but the, uh... you know, I've never really thought about it that way, uh, I just thought that what I think was important was that in the, uh... that, that wherever you are, or wherever you were, you are able to have some impact and I think, uh, I think I was able to accomplish that. Yeah.
Lisa: I'd like to ask you just a little bit about some of the parents you advocated with.
14:40:27:09 - 14:41:49:12
Lisa: What was it like connecting with those parents?
Dr. Edwards: Well, you know the, uh... It was really just a new experience for me. Uh, in terms of working with parents outside of my professional experience. Uh, because the, uh... We were all out there as volunteers and, uh, it was just heart warming to me to see the dedication that those ladies were able to make, uh, in that environment. It was, uh... And they were hard workers. Now I just learned a couple years ago from her daughter, Katie, how... she had her whole family out on the street at one time! Uh, advocating for special needs citizens. I said "I didn't know that." I did not know that. I just noticed that she was a long-term fighter, a long-time fighter. Maureen was a lot more low keyed ...
14:41:49:12 - 14:43:44:06
Dr. Edwards: ...but just as dedicated. Where, of course, Dee was a lot more fiery. Okay, okay. Um, and uh, uh uh with Leona she... in meetings you would not even know she was such a ferocious fighter because she was really low key in the meetings I was with her. I mean she was, she was vocal, she expressed herself but, uh, in terms of, uh, excitement, you know, that just wasn't her style. The, uh, Miss Richardson, they just, uh, recognized her at the, uh, the meeting. Very long term fighter. But I'm a tell you - the first lady who really had an impact on me in terms of the need for advocacy was Edith Taylor. You probably don't know that name. You do know that name. Well, I was in a meeting - Graynle could not have been more than 2-3 years old, maybe five - she stood up and raised hell. I said "oh... this is how you do it" (Laughs). Well she was the first fighter that I remember for special needs. Yeah, Miss Edith Taylor. I'll never forget her. Sometimes I forget her name but it comes to me periodically. Yeah, so you know that name? Okay. Uh, it was-
14:43:44:06 - 14:45:53:14
Lisa: Doctor, I want to talk about a lot of strong women advocates and it's interesting - there do seem to be more women—
Dr. Edwards: There's no question about it! No question about it.
Lisa: Why? Was it unusual for you as a dad to be part of this advocacy?
Dr. Edwards: Uh, I don't know the answer to that question. What I do know is that I suspect that my work - my profession - brought me closer to that arena than a lot of dads. The, uh... you know. I'm-I'm not quite sure how different dads are feeling about having special needs children but I know from my own perspective one of the things that used to always grate at me was how people would react to my son. And I suspected a lot of dads was feeling the same way. Uh, the uh... but again, as I said before, because of my profession I was drawn in to it and stayed there, you see. But you're absolutely right - you see some dads, but the number of dads don't come close to the number of women who are out there advocating for children. And, uh, you gotta grab some dads to fight to get some perspective or a consensus to see how dads feel about advocacy. The, uh, as I said before, I guess it's because of my work I was drawn into it easily. Very easily.
More Interview Chapters
- Childhood and Family
- Dr. Edwards as a Student | Professional Aspirations
- Birth of Graynle, Jr.
- Graynle Jr.'s Educational Experience
- Impact of Disability on Relationships
- Graynle Jr's Education and Impact of Least Restrictive Environment
- Joining a Community of Advocates
- Lack of Opportunities Post-secondary School
- YOU ARE HERE: Dr. Edwards Advocacy for Children and Adults with Disabilities
- Challenges for Parents Today
- Relationship with Graynle Jr. and Reflections on Advocacy
About Graynle Edwards
Parent, Adjunct Professor in Environmental Sciences, Lincoln University
Fathers, Education and Least Restrictive Environments, PARC, Parents, Employment and Workshops, Waiting List