March is Women’s History Month. There are certainly numerous women throughout history that are worthy of a moment’s recognition. In the world of children and adults with special needs, I’m grateful for the contributions of these four women below, who truly have made history.
Dr. Gertrude A. Barber
Gertrude began her career as an educator and administrator in the Erie City School District. Frustrated by a lack of options for children with intellectual disabilities, Dr. Barber, along with a small group of local teachers and parents, opened a one-classroom school in the local YMCA. Today, the Barber National Institute serves over 4,000 children and adults with disabilities throughout Pennsylvania.
Although an illness left 19-month-old Helen deaf and blind, she overcame these enormous challenges and went on to become a world-famous speaker and author. She is remembered as an advocate for people with disabilities, amid numerous other causes. She was a suffragist, a pacifist, and a radical socialist. In 1915, she and George Kessler founded the Helen Keller International (HKI) organization. This organization is devoted to research in vision, health and nutrition, with a mission to save the sight and lives of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
A longtime advocate for children’s health and disability issues, Shriver was a key founder in 1962 of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a component of the National Institutes of Health. In 1968, Shriver founded the Special Olympics, for which she is perhaps best known. She has also assisted in establishing numerous other health-care facilities and support networks throughout the country, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Community of Caring at University of Utah, Salt Lake City.
Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Grandin is a prominent and widely cited proponent of the rights of persons with autism and of animal welfare. Based on personal experience, Grandin advocates for early intervention to address autism and supportive teachers, who can direct fixations of the child with autism in fruitful directions. She is the best-selling author of many books and was the subject of HBO’s 2010 documentary, “Temple Grandin.”
Are there any special women in history that you would add to the list?