Let’s keep the main thing the main thing.

August 30, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Dr. John Copenhaver

Dr. John Copenhaver

In the next month, the CPD will wrap up its 40th Anniversary events. In the spirit of the celebration, we invited John Copenhaver, Director of the CPD’s Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education, to reflect on his career in the field.

Here’s his retrospective:

I was seventeen years old when my high school psychology class took a trip to what was then the state training school in American Fork, Utah.  It was 1964 and “special” education was not very special.  Parents of children with severe disabilities were counseled by doctors and clergy to take their child to the state hospital saying, “it will be better for them and your family.” Individuals with disabilities did not have the same civil rights as others.

I did volunteer work at the state hospital for the next three years and met a wonderful little girl by the name of Gail. She was five years old at the time.  Gail had severe physical and cognitive disabilities and she was placed at the hospital by her parents when she was just a baby.

I know it might sound funny, but even though Gail never uttered a word, we seemed to communicate on a different level. She smiled when I came to feed her. It was quite simple with Gail, it was a communication through heart and spirit.

I was able to get to know her mother and father. They encouraged me. She passed away at ten years and I was able to be part of the service. We visit her gravesite whenever we are in the area.

In those days, the state hospitals were overcrowded, lacking educational programs. They followed a medical model of treatment. The facilities were outdated and depressing. Residents lined the perimeter of the buildings in diapers, rocking back and forth with very little stimulation.

Because of Gail and others like her, I went on to the University to pursue a career in special education. No one in my family had ever attended or graduated from higher education.  I worked full time and went to school full time.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife, Kathy, who went on to become a wonderful second grade teacher. I was determined to make a difference in the lives of children with disabilities.

The same year I began my special education journey, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed and outlawed major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and women. About the time I graduated from college, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Education of All Handicapped Act (EHA) passed and opened public school buildings to all children with disabilities.

My first job in special education was in Elmo, Montana on the shores of Flathead Lake.  Elmo was on the Flathead and Salish Indian Reservation. Special education teachers in the state and throughout the country were provided training on the “Individualized Education Program” (IEP). We invented how the IEP should work. I taught in special education classrooms for the next eighteen years in various school districts in Montana and helped develop over one thousand IEPs.  It was very gratifying to work with parents and children with disabilities. Each child was unique and valued. Between 1975-1990, it was all about physical access, procedural safeguards, and developing appropriate IEPs. During that time, I was blessed to serve as a special education teacher, school psychologist, and special education director.

In 1990, I took a leave of absence from my job in Montana for a position with Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center at Utah State University.  Dr. Glenn Latham was the director when I arrived. Since that time, I have experienced the great fortune of working with and providing technical assistance–or advice on how to enhance special education and meet its legal requirements–to numerous state special education directors across the country, including the BIE.  I have been at all 183 BIE schools in eighteen states.

From 1990-2012, special education started to change.  State complaint investigations and due process hearings increased, and attorneys became part of the educational landscape.  Accountability became a buzzword after the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004.  Every State in the country was required to submit a State Performance Plan (SPP) focused on 20 performance and compliance indicators.  Part C has 14 indicators.  Every February, the State is required to submit an annual performance report (APR) that reports the progress of each indicator. IDEA has created an accountability system that involves the IEP for the student, the SPP for the State, and the APR for the school district.  Data, accountability, disputes, and fiscal issues begin to overshadow the focus on the child and their IEP.

In the 1990s and before, the barriers were attitudes and discrimination. Today the barriers for special education are excessive regulations and bureaucracy. Data and accountability are important, but it has been carried to an extreme, at the expense of serving children.

Despite the challenges we currently face, there have been numerous accomplishments over the past thirty years in special education.

  • We now have a zero reject policy for children with disabilities in public schools;
  • Parents take an active role in their child’s special education program;
  • Children with disabilities are viewed as general education first;
  • The “inclusion” movement has provided increased involvement in general education for children with disabilities;
  • We are using “people first” language out of respect;
  • We have eliminated inappropriate language such as “retardation”;
  • Infants and toddlers with disabilities now are entitled to services;
  • There is more accountability at the State and school district levels;
  • Response to Intervention (RtI) systems are getting to at-risk children earlier, before they are placed in special education.

I could go on with more accomplishments we should all be proud of, and continue our efforts to improve programs and services for children with disabilities. This effort should always include families and community.

As I move toward the end of my career, I hope the pendulum starts to swing back to a focus on each child and their IEP team, making sure to always keep the main thing the main thing – children with disabilities and their unique needs.

Tags: , , ,

Happy 80th Birthday, Dr. Fifield!

July 20, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Marvin kneels next to a boy in a wheelchair

Dr. Marvin Fifield, during the center's early days.

It is fitting that during the CPD’s 40th Anniversary year, one of its pillars is celebrating a milestone of his own. We’ve done a separate post on the CPD History Channel blog about Dr. Marvin Fifield’s contributions to the disability community. Here, voices from around the CPD remember his contributions to us.

He turns 80 next week.

“Can Marv really be celebrating his 80th birthday the same year as the CPD’s  40th? The CPD certainly owes him for this anniversary.

“What stands out in my mind is not so much particular incidents as a concept–Marv’s skill, character, and compassion. Sure there are memorable events. Like the annual Division Christmas parties at his home. He would come through a door dressed as Santa with Fritz the dog-reindeer at his side. 

“Marv was ever-patient with all of us at the ECC/DCHP/CPD. He steered us through legislative requests, directors’ meetings, and federal reviews. He objectively analyzed what we did right and what we didn’t, and through it all brought humor and compassion in big and small acts. I remember him helping a COCA member whose van lift failed in the parking lot on a miserable snowy night after a late, late meeting–using only family-friendly language, it should be noted. And though he modeled ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’ (Thumper, Snow White, 1937) we understood when it was time to do something in a  different way. Thanks, Marv.”

–Sarah Rule, former director of the CPD and campus liaison for the Post-Secondary Education, Employment and Research project.

Dr. Marv Fifield on crutches

“Marv’s professional accomplishments are the stuff of legends, but it’s his sincere concern for people that made it an honor and a pleasure to work for him. No matter what pressures were in place, there was always that impish grin and chuckle to lighten the situation. He was a wonderful boss and is an incredible person. Happy Birthday, Marv!”

–Kelly Smith, Information Specialist at the CPD

“It was my pleasure to work as a secretary for Dr. Marvin Fifield for four years after high school and then again for 10 years after my children were grown.  I will always be grateful for the opportunity to work with him.  He is respected by many as a great leader, but I will always respect him for the kind and thoughtful person he is.  I consider him one of my dearest friends.”

–Sharon Weston, Assistant to the Director at the CPD

“When the CPD was younger, it was smaller, which allowed people to know most other people that worked at the Center.  Because of our small size we were able to have Christmas parties outside of the Center at some venue.  These were always fun events.  Marv was always willing to join the frivolity.  I remember him telling jokes while enjoying time with colleagues.   I can tell many stories but I’ll save those for later.”

–Mark Innocenti, director, Research and Evaluation division at the CPD

“To my most admired professional mentor—Marv Fifield. I’m grateful that the 20 years of my adult life have overlapped with his. I’ve learned so much about my chosen career, how to work with people, ways to build programs, methods for getting things done in challenging economic times, and strategies for improving my Dr. Marvin Fifield speaks at the USU podiumpersonal abilities and capacities. Marv taught me early on that for every 10 good ideas, maybe one will pan out—maybe one will blossom into a great program. So, plant every good idea, move it along and maybe you’ll be lucky. Thanks Marv for your great leadership. Most importantly, I appreciate your consistent and encouraging friendship. May you enjoy many more years of health and happiness; may you “putter” with confidence!”

–Marty Blair, Associate Director of the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education at the CPD

“It has been my great honor to have a career that runs in the same circles as that of my father.  I’ve grown to relish being introduced as Marv’s son, and to appreciate the varied and profound things he has done that have influenced the disability community.  I’ve also grown to admire the way he approached complicated, polarizing, and challenging tasks.  He usually played a role in the background, drafting language, shaping an agenda, writing minutes, and communicating with policy makers and power brokers.  He has always been the last one to claim any influence or significant role in achieving important milestones, but those who have worked with him closely know the key role he has played over and over.

“Everyone who has ever worked at the CPD or has received services here, has been touched by his work.”

–Bryce Fifield, current CPD Director

Happy 80th, Dr. Fifield!


Tags: ,

Brown bag discussion: communicating disability’s bigger picture

June 11, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

image of a brown bagIt’s happened to all of us in the disability field. A stranger asks what we do, and we struggle for a concise answer.

That’s before we even touch on the bigger question: Why?

During the CPD’s Brown Bag luncheon last week, Training and Development Specialist Jeff Sheen led a discussion that focused on finding and communicating a good response to the question: What is your job?

“This is bigger than your project,” he said. “This is bigger than your role in your project. You are an integral part in improving the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.”

For many of the people in the room, work at the Center for Persons with Disabilities started like any other means to earn a paycheck: with a job search. And for a lot of us, it grew into something more. Work in the disability field kindled a passion for social justice. It awakened a hope for starting a meaningful discussion about disability without watching the audience walk out or tune out.

Sometimes the hardest part of the conversation is just getting the public to show up.

The truth is that people with disabilities are part of an equal-opportunity minority, Jeff said.  Anybody can join, any time, in the blink of an eye. We are all potential members.

But the public doesn’t often view disability that way. Instead disability is seen as something that only happens to other, unfortunate people. And those who work in the disability field may seem to be saint-like service providers. It’s a view that makes many of the people around the table uncomfortable.  The word “condescending” came up more than once.

So how should people at the CPD communicate a bigger picture to the people who ask about their jobs? Jeff urged his listeners to incorporate two values. The first is that disability is a normal part of life. The next is that people with disabilities don’t need to be fixed—but sometimes their environment does.

So much of the work done at the CPD revolves around working toward independence and quality of life. It involves working with people of all ages and their families. It includes services, supports and research that will make people’s lives easier, more independent, better.

So the next time somebody asks you what you do, consider talking about more than how you spend your time. Tell them why you do what you do.

Jeff showed the video below at the end of his presentation. In it, Center for the Study and Advancement of Disability Policy director Bobby Silverstein reviews the history of disability law–and the existence of discriminatory laws that were once on the books. Though policy has changed, the attitudes sometimes remain.

Tags: ,

Utah disability history on display in education building

February 6, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

An excerpt from the posters shows a protester in a wheelchair, in front of a bus

Catch the display in the Education Building Atrium through Friday, February 10.

It’s Education and Human Services Week. And while you’re enjoying the ice cream festivities over in the Education Building atrium, you can also learn more about disability history in Utah. (A complete schedule of events is listed on the college website.)

A series of posters on either end of the Atrium takes a Utah-specific view of significant events in disability history.

A look at Utah’s health history highlights includes pioneering female doctors and a Nobel prize laureate. Institutionalization of people with disabilities is examined. Parents reflect on their fight to have their children with disabilities attend public schools. One parent tells of her journey to participate in her son’s early education.  A veteran recalls a project to help the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. An advocate remembers the struggle for equal access to public transportation. People with disabilities reflect on the significance of being included in their communities.

So wander over between February 6 and February 10. It’s a great way to celebrate education, human services and making a difference.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Disability film screening and panel provoked discussion

January 23, 2012 by JoLynne Lyon

Classroom with people in desks in semi-circles faceing a panel of 6 people with disabilities and one moderator; slide on wall says "Lives Worth Living" behind the panel

at the film and panel discussion in the Merrill-Cazier Library

On Friday, a panel sponsored by the Center for Persons with Disabilities took a look back at the events that marked the history America’s largest minority group: one that has fought its own battles for independence, acceptance and equality.

Attendees started by viewing the documentary Lives Worth Living, produced by the PBS series Independent Lens.The film traces some of the significant events in disability and advocacy. Its images were dramatic, from the obvious neglect at institutions for people with intellectual disabilities to a stair-crawling demonstration up the steps of the US Capitol by people who couldn’t enter the building in their wheelchairs.

After the film, the panel answered questions on the future for people with disabilities. The event ended with a reception by the poster exhibit in the Special Collections area of the Merrill-Cazier library. Here’s what we heard:

Andy Curry, Chair for the Utah Healthcare Subcommittee: Though the ADA passed, it wasn’t instantly embraced, even by university campuses. He began using a wheelchair at the time it passed, and a year or two later he began scouting out college campuses. “It was clear that some of these universities didn’t even want me there.” After graduating from New Mexico state he began the job hunt and found he could not physically enter the buildings of some prospective employers. “If they’re not accessible, they’re not going to hire you.”

picture of panelist Keli Babcock, beautiful smile, long dark hair, sitting in a power chair

Panelist Keli Babcock

Keli Babcock, education coordinator and peer mentor at the Tri-County Independent Living Center in Odgen, Utah: “With all this accessibility that’s slowly coming about, the result is obvious. People with disabilities are able to get out more and attend universities and get jobs… People are seeing us, where back years ago they did not see people with disabilities out in the community. … I think that’s big. There’s still a long way to go but we’ve come a long way… It’s exciting to see the acceptance that’s taking place.”

Panelist Tom Brownlee, self-advocate and chair of the CPD’s consumer advisory council: “Things are getting better, we’re getting there but there’s still a lot of advocating work to do… Everyone has a right to have their dreams come true.”

Sachin Pavithran, interim director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program at the CPD: “We have really a long ways to go to get equal access which we all deserve. … Everything is on the web now. A lot of information is not available to someone who is blind because its not accessible.”

Likewise, he said, many appliances now have touch screens that can’t be operated by people who are blind. “It is possible to make it accessible, but manufacturers don’t care about it. … It’s not just a luxury. If you can’t cook, if you can’t wash your clothes, how are you going to go to work?”

Scott Ferre, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Salt Lake County, commented on how important it was when the students of Gallaudet University–a university that had been established for people who were deaf and hard of hearing. Since its inception it had always had a hearing president, but in 1988 students demanded a university president who would better represent them. The protest helped them to be recognized as people, he said, and they realized they shouldn’t just “sit down and shut up.”

Andrea Pitts, who currently serves on the Utah Independent Living Council, offered this advice to people who are working to make good changes: “Keep on plugging.” The beginning stages are often more discouraging than the middle and end stages.

Tina Peck, who works for the Disability Resource Center at USU:  “For me, the fact that buildings are accessible and they did that for me… it really hits home for me because before any of this, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school. I just finished my first semester of my masters degree.”

Moderator and CPD Training and Development Specialist Jeff Sheen issued a challenge to the attendees.  “We want you to take this information and go out and change the world.” Start by striking the “r-word” from your conversation, he said, and gently remind others that it’s a hurtful word.

For more photos of the event, visit our Facebook page.

Dr. Marvin Fifleld and his wife looking at some of the disability history panels displayed on the wall

Former CPD director Marvin Fifield with his wife, Diane, at the exhibit


Tags: ,