In 1933 there were few organizations offering services for children with disabilities. Options were limited, and many children were placed in institutions or kept isolated at home. Although well cared for, children with disabilities were socially set apart and unable to enjoy the same everyday activities as typically developing children. At that time, a group of physicians, therapists, teachers and civic-minded individuals banned together to create new opportunities for children with disabilities in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. The result of their efforts was the founding of the D.C. Society for Crippled Children, today known as Easterseals DC MD VA.
What began in the hearts and minds of this dedicated group of leaders has grown tremendously over the years. Today, Easterseals DC MD VA reaches tens of thousands of children and adults throughout the region. What began on a minimal budget has grown to a nearly twenty million dollar organization, addressing the community needs for children, military families, seniors and caregivers. One thing that has remained at the forefront through the years is the mission of Easterseals; "provides exceptional services to ensure that all people with disabilities or special needs, including military, wounded warriors, veterans and their families, have equal opportunities to live, learn, work and play in their communities."
Over the years Easterseals DC MD VA has been a leader in meeting the changing needs of children with disabilities and adapting to the times and the needs as they evolve. By 1943 it was recognized that no facilities were available in local communities for children with multiple disabilities, particularly for those with cerebral palsy, so Easter Seals responded to the need, and a school was founded. Housed for many years in various locations in the District of Columbia, the school found a permanent home when Easterseals constructed its own building at 2800 13th Street, NW in 1959, originally known as The Children's Center. The building will be undergoing a renovation to update the facility to meet the growing and changing needs of children in the District of Columbia. Today, the Easterseals Child Development Center in Washington, DC remains one of the few community-based options for children with special needs to receive developmentally appropriate early education and full-day childcare.
In addition to its first center in the District of Columbia, Easterseals DC MD VA currently operates three other Child Development Centers in Northern Virginia and Maryland. All of our centers serve children with and without disabilities from six weeks to five years of age in the unique atmosphere of an inclusive setting. This model, the most highly recommended practice in the early childhood education field, places children of all physical, emotional and academic abilities in the same learning environment, providing those with disabilities the opportunity to learn alongside their typically developing peers to learn age-appropriate communication and social behaviors. A microcosm of the real world, the inclusive setting also benefits children without disabilities by teaching them early on to understand, respect and embrace differences.
Today, thanks to federal laws like the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and others, families have new opportunities and rights to make decisions for their family members based on their individual circumstances. Public legislation has played a key role in the resources available for children and adults with disabilities. In addition to its primary role in providing direct services, Easterseals has successfully worked with federal, state and local officials and agencies in advocating for laws and programs that help people with disabilities achieve independence.
Over time, children with disabilities become adults with disabilities, and Easterseals DC MD VA responded to the call by broadening its mission beyond providing services for only children. Easterseals is on the cutting edge in the effort to provide alternatives to expensive and undesired institutionalization for older Americans. To meet these challenges and demands for seniors and older adults with disabilities, Easterseals currently provides community-based adult day services in Hagerstown, Silver Spring and Baltimore, Maryland. Easterseals services supporting older adults with disabilities will continue to grow with the same commitment given to the many years of children's services. Easterseals also provides services for military personnel and their families, respite services and assistive technology.