Early history

This organization was founded by a group of mothers whose ground-breaking advocacy efforts paved the way for our country’s first special education law.  But they couldn’t stop there.  

Even with a federal law that mandated education for all children with disabilities, these mothers recognized their hard work had only begun.

Mothers usher in education for all  (1965 - 1971)

In a time when the choice for supports and services for children and adults with disabilities was between nothing and residential institutions, a small core group of Seattle-area mothers, organized to change that reality. Our founding mothers wanted their children to be a part of the communities where they lived. They refused to accept the status quo in which public schools were able to pick and choose who they would and would not educate, where rejected children were institutionalized or confined at home while others went to school.

They started the Northwest Center in 1965 with a $20,000 grant from the Boeing Good Neighbor Fund to educate children rejected by public schools. Viewing that as only a temporary fix, they moved onto to create the nation’s first state mandatory special education law, the Education for All act, in 1971 with the help of a couple of law students they recruited from the University of Washington. As a consequence they were invited to San Francisco and Washington DC to help draft a national mandatory special education act, enacted four years later. 

The Troubleshooters (1971 - 1973)

At the signing ceremony for the Education for All Act, Governor Evans said something very prophetic.  He told our founding mothers that they might view this accomplishment as the completion of their work and a reason for disbanding.   But he advised them to take a different course as he believed this was only the beginning of their work and that the need for diligent advocacy would only grow.

They heeded his words and not long after founded an organization called The Troubleshooters in 1972.

Incorporation of protection and advocacy (1974 - 2007)

The Troubleshooters organization incorporated in 1975 and went on to become the protection and advocacy system for Washington state when Governor Dixy Lee Ray designated it as such in 1977 pursuant to the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act passed by the U.S. Congress. In May of 1987 the name was changed to the Washington Protection and Advocacy System before again being changed to Disability Rights Washington in June of 2007.

The disability rights movement owes a great deal to the founders of Disability Rights Washington – those troubleshooters whose passion for making a difference in their children’s lives truly did change the world.

What is more, they helped pave the way to what has become another front of the greater civil rights movement. What started as a group of mothers organizing to secure much needed services for their children with developmental disabilities has expanded with the passage of several new federal mandates over the years to become a one stop federally funded advocacy service for people with all kinds of disabilities.

What started as organization of mothers looking after the best interests of their children has evolved, with the creation of the protection and advocacy system, into an organization by and for people with disabilities – an organization that acts on the expressed interests of people with all kinds of disabilities.

To see more about our foundation and accomplishments, visit our Milestones page