Know It 2 Own It: Teaching and Learning About Disability Rights

In a recent blog post, we introduced you to “Know It 2 Own It,” a campaign to encourage Americans to learn more about the disability rights movement and history that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July of 1990.

This month, as students across the country settle into their daily academic routines, now is the perfect time to think about teaching and learning about disability rights.

American history is also the history of people with disabilities. Though her life spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, many 21st century students still find inspiration in the remarkable career of  Helen Keller – the American author, lecturer and activist and the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree. The story of her early years is the subject of the powerful play, “The Miracle Worker.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, considered by many as one of the nation’s greatest elected leaders, helped guide the country and the world through some the 20th century’s greatest crises while using  a wheelchair. One of the most beloved singers alive today, singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder, was born blind. These are just some of examples of the contributions that people with disabilities have made to the richness and diversity of our shared American life through the years.

The disability rights movement is a part of American history, and understanding that history is valuable to all of us. The struggle for disability rights is part of the broader cause of civil rights and human rights.

This month’s guest video blogger, Rebecca Cokley, is Executive Director for the National Council on Disability (NCD). In the video, she describes how she got involved in the disability rights movement as a child, what she thinks are the most important messages for young people with disabilities, and why she is committed to mentoring others. Her motto is:  “Lift as you Climb.”

The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) wants to hear from you. Have you found mentors in your local community that could teach students more about disability rights? Does a member of your school community have a family member with a disability who might be willing to share their experience?  Does someone have a family member who works in a disability-related non-profit, business, or government agency?

Please let us know how you are working to bring about positive change in your community by sharing your story on social media with the hashtag #know2own.

Click here to view past Know It 2 Own It blogs and join us here next month. October is Disability Employment Month!

Sue Swenson is Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Duncan:

    I am a New York City middle school teacher in Ozone Park, New York. I can assert quite clearly that the administrative staff that governs our school and teacher performances is fair and ethical to the utmost in its duties. In other words, I love where I teach and its community. Unfortunately, it is not that way in all places of learning.

    With all due respect to a man in your position, I must express to you the hurt and disillusionment I feel regarding your approval of last June’s decision in Vergara v. California – a ruling that could strip all teachers of due process, a fundamental right that all exemplary workers deserve.

    One would certainly be shocked if the Secretary of Defense favored a court ruling that insisted all soldiers must enter battle without any means of protecting themselves.

    Call the tenure process a necessary evil if you must. For every bad teacher tenure may protect, thousands of good, hard working teachers are able to operate without fear of harassment from unethical administrators who have a “bone to pick”, or who are just trying to show their superintendents that they can be tough managers.

    Teaching is a second career for me. For fifteen years I worked for the trading firm of Salomon Brothers which through acquisitions and mergers, became a subsidiary of Citigroup. Though I was treated fairly there, I saw middle managers laid off in an effort to substitute the accrued salaries they earned through prolonged loyalty to their firm, for younger and “cheaper” workers. So it would go without the protection of tenure. How many wonderful teachers pushing the age of fifty would be hounded out of their positions for newer (not necessarily better) and less salaried educators?

    There are no bad guys here. Arguments for and against tenure will be debated by intelligent people. I would recommend the continuation of tenure accompanied by a more efficient method of “due process” and more responsibility from parents for their child’s education. The issue of funding for inner city schools is also food for thought. Casting teachers’ unions as villains against progress does nothing to enhance the debate.


    Nicholas Santora

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