Defining a Need
On April 6, 1963, a resourceful group of parents convened a conference
in Chicago entitled "Exploration into the Problems of the Perceptually
Handicapped Child." Professionals from various disciplines
and with diverse and extensive clinical experience in dealing with
the needs of these children participated. Professionals and parents
shared a common concern: the recognition of the dire need for services
for their children, services that did not exist.
The 1963 conference articulated the cornerstones on which the field
of Learning Disabilities is based. The underlying assumptions put
forth provided the frameworks for legislation, theories, diagnostic
procedures, educational practices, research and training models.
A consensus was reached on a name for the category, reflecting both
the heterogeneity and homogeneity of the characteristics observed
in the children, while differentiating them from others within existing
categories. The term "Learning Disabilities" embedded
within the title of Dr. Samuel Kirk's conference paper, was selected.
A national movement was underway!
A National Organization is Born
During the months that followed, many preliminary
details towards formation of a national organization were worked
out. With a core of volunteers agreeing to become its nucleus, the
Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (ACLD) was created
and incorporated in January, 1964. The organization was conceived
as a group driven by parents and adults with learning disabilities,
and the bylaws and structure of the organization -- now known as
the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) -- clearly
reflect the consumer driven position and philosophy.
The local groups of 1963 now had their umbrella, and soon LDA chapters
were active at both state and local levels. Visibility and success
at the national level were soon to follow.
Legislation was passed that specifically included individuals with
learning disabilities, chief among them The Children with Specific
Learning Disabilities Act of 1969. Finally! We had a working definition
of learning disabilities within the Federal law. Within this definition
a medical cause was presumed, though the focus was on the mandate
for remedial education designed to address the unique needs of children
with learning disabilities.
Other landmark pieces of legislation were to follow: the Elementary
and Secondary Amendments of 1969; the Vocational Rehabilitation
Act 1973; the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1974;
the Juvenile Justice and Prevention of Delinquency Act; and the
Americans with Disabilities Act.
The LDA national office was established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
in 1973, initially housed in donated space in a basement. That same
year the organization's first Executive Director, Jean Petersen,
was hired, and remained in that position until her retirement in
Our activities in Washington have been ongoing, coordinated through
the persistent efforts of the many volunteers of LDA. Thanks to
the efforts of LDA's grass roots volunteers, the recognition of
learning disabilities as a handicapping condition provided the means
for agencies to acquire funding for research, service delivery programs,
and professional preparation.
The LDA headquarters continue to be located in Pittsburgh, where
a staff supports the nationwide work of hundreds of key volunteer
leaders, an annual conference that draws upwards of 3000 participants
annually, and answer hundreds of queries from individuals, families
and professionals every day.