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The Convergence of Disability Law and Policy: Core Concepts, Ethical Communities, and the Notion of Dignity

Interview with Rud Turnbull
Produced by Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities

Assistive Technology Act

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Rud Turnbull: Years passed and we come up to 1987-1988. I'm in Washington, D.C., working with Senator Harkin. And Senator Harkin, whose brother is congenitally deaf from birth and profoundly deaf, said, "Turnbull, I want you to write a law about technology, assistive technology, and how do we get it into the classrooms? How do we get it into the workplace? How do we make assistive technology a normal support with people with disabilities?"

Well, with Bobby Silverstein, the staff chairman of the staff of that committee, I did the key work on the Assistive Technology Act. Assistive technology is now a related service, it is now an element of special education, has been since early 1990s, but the Assistive Technology Act is a powerful tool for educating children with disabilities. And, finally, I continue to write the law book, I continue to write an introduction to special education. It's now going into its eighth edition.

But from the very first edition, Ann and I intended that book to focus on how to include children with disabilities in the general curriculum with children who do not have disabilities. That was a controversial perspective, but it was a perspective we took because we had seen how Jay Turnbull himself had been included in his last year of high school in the general education curriculum – not in the academics, because his intellectual disability was rather significant – but he became the manager of the football team at the Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland. And at the end of the season, at the football banquet, he got his letter. He didn't get his letter, he got a certificate.

At the end of the banquet, three women walked up to our table, and we sat in the back of the room because we didn't know anybody in Washington, D.C. and Bethesda, Maryland. They walked up to the table and they said, "Mr. Turnbull, Mrs. Turnbull, our sons are the tri-captains of the football team and they have chosen lots to see which one of them would give his letter jacket to your son because your son will not get a letter jacket until spring." This was December.

Now just think of that. The notion that Jay, who handed out towels to every football player who came off the field, whether they were bloody or sweaty or not, now he's getting the letter jacket, the symbol of reciprocity, the symbol of giving and getting, getting and giving. That is what I think special education really was all about, and is all about.

And I think my role has been partly as a lawyer, partly as a person who believes in integration, and partly as a parent who simply turned his son over to a superb educator, Mary Morningstar, who's on our faculty of the University of Kansas, and to the young people of the Walt Whitman High School, and they took Jay Turnbull in. They got a letter jacket for him and, at the junior-senior prom in June, he danced all night with all sorts of young people. I think there the personal history and the publicist would then interact with respect to education.

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