For the few who came to the meeting of the Northern Virginia Regional Chapter of the White House Conference on Handicapped Individuals (WHCHD) Saturday, there was an odd mixture of hope, frustration, discontent and optimism.
Some came in wheelchairs, some aided by crutches and braces. Some came to speak, some to listen, and some to interpret into sign language what was being said.
Besides the five speakers and three interpreters, there were only 10 people present at the four-hour meeting which focused on the problems of the handicapped in Northern Virginia.
Though many specific problems exist for the handicapped, for instance, transportation, education, and architecture, many present Saturday felt that these problems cannot be solved until a larger and more general problem is solved: the problem of organization.
Edward Rose, chairman of the Virginia Board of Vocational Rehabilitation, said, "If there's anything we need for the implementation of the White House Conference recommendations, it is a coalition of people with disabilities. We must push for a state coalition of organizations and individuals to speak as one voice to the legislation."
Gordon Landes, the chairman of the Northern Virginia WHCHI, said, "I want to represent all handicapped people not matter what their impairments are.I want them all to know what their rights are.
"We've got to get ourselves coodinated, organized, so that we will be able to function . . . tell them what is right for the handicapped in the state of Virginia."
Robert Madden, speaking as a Virginia delegate to the WHCHI and as the parent of a daughter with cerebral palsY, talked about the final reports of the conference and identified what he found to be some of the most important issues:
The education and training of workers who help the handicapped.
The need for federal funding.
The need for barrier funding.
The need for barrier free environments for the handicapped. This does not only refer to architectural barriers, Madden stressed, but also to attitudinal barriers.
The use of the media to increase awareness of the problems facing the handicapped.
Existing laws must be enforced and existing programs must be strengthened before new laws are implemented or new programs started.
There must be early identification, prevention and treatment of handicapping conditions.
Rehabilitation and placement services must be improved.
The handicapped should be placed in the least restrictive environment possible. They should be able to get into the schols and he educated.
Barrers to work should be eliminated. Each person should be able to get into the schools and be educated.
Barriers to work should be eliminated. Each person should be able to work to whatever capcity permitted by his qualifications.
There should be a central source of information on the availabity of services, rights and entilements of the handicapped.
Other speakers addressed specific concerns of the handicapped population, including education and transportation.
Donald Taylor, the director of the Department of Handicapped Service Rehab Group Inc., said, "The main problem of transportation for the handicapped, as I see it, is one of expense and difficulty. Residential housing is not clustered near Metro stations. Most buses are inaccessible."
He added that "many people don't realize they can, in fact, drive, or they don't know to pay for the expensive modifications."
Taylor, whose van has been modified with a lift and hand controls so that he can drive from his wheelchair, expressed hope that the White House Conference would help inform the handicapped of resources available to them.
Kathryn Murray, speaking as the president of the Peninsula Chapter Virginia Association for Children With Learning Disabilities and as the parent of a learning disabled child, said that even though PL 94-142 (Education of All Handicapped Children Act-1975) requires that there will be free and appropriate education for all children, this is not a reality.
In the future, she said, "for some handicapped children, education will be a lesser quality than it is at this time," because "at the core of the problem, it's a money issue," and "there's a lot of shuffling over who's going to pay what."
One of the most controversial educational issues is that of mainstreaming, that is, the placement of the handicapped into classes with the non handicapped.
It was the feeling of some of the people at the meeting Saturday that mainstreaming was implemented simply because it was cheaper than providing the special facilities required by many handicapped students.
Often, the teachers of these integrated classes are not qualified to deal with the special needs of the handicapped students. Though there are "free training classes for teachers," said Murray, "they are not required to go, and they don't go."
And even if they did attend these training sessions, mainstreaming would still be "a pipe-dream," according to Rose, because "you can expect a teacher to be trained in all areas of disability."