Chapter 10: Impact of Right to Education Case on Tom's Career
18:30:06:00 - 18:44:12:27 LS: Tom, how did the work on this case shape you own career path? This was your first disability case..
TG: Ah, well, I um, that's interesting. I had, uh, I had, uh, taken leave from the Philadelphia Law firm where I began to practice, and had returned there, and it was there that PARC found me. I had been in the first generation of legal services lawyers in the time in between. I did this case from the place that was the beginnings of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law. It was in the attic of a thirteen storey building at the corner of Market and Thirteenth Street in Philadelphia. And I for the forty years thereafter until I retired, I devoted a great deal of my professional work to disability. And did so in the public interest world essentially at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. Um, and so this experience was multiplied across the uh intentions that PARC had had at the very beginning, to turn institutions into rubble and build community services instead, it was, turned into what was the longest running battle in the practice of disability rights law that followed at the Public Interest law Center of Philadelphia uh, that many of my colleagues and a great many clients across the Disability Movement virtually every disability organization were involved in - it was called the transbus battle. I was the effort to replace the steep stepped difficult to use for people, impossible to use for people with disabilities, disability, difficult to use for people without disability, buses of the '70s. And it took until about 2005 to win that battle, the longest lived and a tribute to - one of the rules of the Disability Movement as of all of the equality movements that preceded it uh, is, uh, never take no for an answer, and the counterpart rule is if you first do not succeed, try another way. In the transbus battle, the battle for a bus that had a low floor and no steps, a battle on which there was great federal leverage because the federal government put up the development money, the design money for buses and under the Urban Mass Transportation Act of the United States paid for a significant part of all the buses that were built. And so we had early successes in the late '70s driven by section 504 in getting the Department of Transportation to require that all buses be accessible to the disabled, and to suggest almost require that they be made accessible by being low floor buses that had flip ramps and were easy - that fell apart when General Motors decided they would not manufacture any more buses for New York City and the contract went to AM General, and they were so busy for ten years that they didn't want to make a low floor bus, and General Motors didn't want to make the low floor bus, and, and so instead we spent several decades with those lifts on the backs of buses that nobody can use very well. It's hard for elders to stand on them and be lifted trough the air and so on. But in communities all over the country, the Disability Movement and its expressive organizations stayed after local transportation authorities and state transportation authorities until by 2005 we had three or four years of experience of someone having been brought into the manufacturing field who was actually making a low floor, no-step bus and by 2005, almost most of the buses on the streets of cities and such rural areas as had buses, were low floor, ramped,no-step buses, welcoming to people in wheelchairs to people with Canadian crutches, to elders who were a little unsteady, might not have a cane, useful for mothers with children, etc., etc., etc. Uh, Sharon Missler was one of the leaders o that battle, Paralyzed Veterans of American was one of the organizations and, and it was one of those occasions after the disability organizations of every stripe had gathered together to require [ATW ] to issue regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of the legislation of 1973 which, uh adopted the first Civil Rights Act, the very words of Title 6 of the Civil Rights Act, the 'race', the very words of Title 9, 'women', adopted and applied to people with disability. Well it took sit ins in Joe [Calafata's] office, Secretary of ATW and they were les initially by the American Coalition of Citizens with Disability and Paralyzed Veterans of America and ADAPT, which is kind of the SNC of the Disability Movement now still very effective but in time over the months that it took to bring Joe and the carter Administration to issue those regulations under 504, people with disabilities and their families and their friends of every stripe gathered in the battle and you began to see all around the United States people of differing disabilities talking with each other and supporting each other and doing things together and the ACCD was one of the first cross-disability organizations - now there are many. TASH is one, the American Association of People with Disabilities is another, and of course that has multiplied the influence, the strength, the power of people with disabilities enormously. Because we are um, a good one out of every ten people has the experience of significant disability and when you count their extended families, of course, who have the experience of disability in a different way but who know it very well and, and who want the world to welcome and cherish people with disability- that is potentially a very strong movement that we call the Disability Movement. Which is not to say that there are not problems. There have come in recent years to be very significant problems some of those, most of those, have to do with how the services and supports for people with disabilities and their families are funded, and whether their funding will be sustained. We are now in late 2011 and it will extend clearly into 2012 and almost surely beyond, in political crisis around the continued existence of medical assistance Title 19 of the Social Security Act of the United States. And Title 19, Medical Assistance, though widely unknown as the predominant funding of services to people with disabilities and their families, 'cause the states by and large don't call it Medical Assistance, don't tell us that anywhere from 50% - 70% of the funding comes from the Federal Treasury - it varies state by state by the rate of poverty. So many people who have noticed the drawing back on disability support and service state by state over the last several months maybe even couple of years - not everyone recognizes that that's all about Medical Assistance. And once they recognize it, however, and see that Medical Assistance is at the center of the national political agenda then the great reach of The Movement can be activated.
LS: Are people vigilant enough, Tom?
TG: Not nearly, not nearly, and there are terrible traps. The largest one, the largest trap for the Disability Movement, for any movement, for anyone with a need and a deep wish to see the equality commitments of the United States recognized and more fully realized - it is, its summed up in a phrase its one of two phrases, "that's the best we can do", or "it made no sense to try because we wouldn't have gotten anything". The Governors of the United States who since 1965 have been very vigilant to maintain Medical Assistance and to keep it well funded in this last Congressional season did not act to maintain a step up in Federal funding of some fourteen percentage points for every state which expired on June 30th of 2011, and the leader of the Democratic Governors, the Republican Governors wanted it to lapse, leader of the Democratic Governors was quoted in the popular press as saying 'we wanted, of course, to see those fourteen additional percentage points extended, but we didn't think we could get it'. Which is a lot like what happened in the disability organizations in 1997 when the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act , IDEA, which removed the 'all' and reauthorized for the first time since 1975 the removal of children by school districts from school. The reason why that was allowed to happen and is as the disability organizations inside the beltway said, 'that was the best we could get'. Well, parents across the country found it unacceptable, and they revolted, all across the country.
More Interview Chapters
- Early Career and Association with PARC
- PARC Approaches Gilhool
- Right to Education Case
- Brother's institutionalization influenced Tom's thoughts on Right to Education Case
- Right to Education Heard in Federal Court
- Media and Reaching Diverse Audiences
- Fundamental Shift for the Educational System
- Meaningful Provisions in Consent Decree
- Implementation of Consent Decree
- YOU ARE HERE: Impact of Right to Education Case on Tom's Career
About Thomas K. Gilhool
Born: 1938, Ardmore, PA
Attorney, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education 1987-1989
Resides in Philadelphia PA and California
PARC Consent Decree, Civil Rights, Institutions, Advocacy, Self-advocacy, Families