Disability History in Texas From Isolation to Participation a history of Disability in Texas, 1835 – 1999


Vocational and Physical Rehabilitation



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Vocational and Physical Rehabilitation

When members of the armed forces returned from World War I, the Federal Soldiers Rehabilitation Act of 1918, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1920, moved in a new direction to provide for those seriously injured on the battlefield. The workforce, depleted by unprecedented military loss of life, needed all men and women to serve their country in a civilian capacity.


The Texas Legislature created the Board of Vocational Education (now the Texas Rehabilitation Committee) in 1929 to provide vocational rehabilitation services. Two years later, rehabilitation workers were stationed in Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston, with most of the appropriation earmarked for vocational training. Within ten years, the annual budget rose from $12,500 to $150,000, and a staff of ten had rehabilitated over 400 people. The number of clients tripled over the next decade. It increased substantially more during the years following World War II as medical advances enabled people with spinal cord injuries to survive. By this time, Texas was counted an urban state. It was necessary to provide training for jobs in industry, rather than on the farm.
The 61st Texas Legislature established the State Committee for the Blind in 1931 to provide all services to visually disabled persons except welfare services and the services to children provided by education agencies. The Committee relied on voluntary funds to cover the expenses of operating the program until 1933 when the agency received its first appropriations from the 43rd Legislature, the sum of $8,250, and hired the first home teachers to work in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Galveston, and Houston.
World War II affected people with disabilities both in military medical advances that allowed persons with spinal cord injuries to survive as well as offering an opportunity for persons with disabilities at home to serve in defense jobs. Of course, war always creates more people with disabilities and subsequent governmental service and policy responses.
Polio survivors needed physical therapy that was often long and painful. One of the first actual rehabilitation centers in Texas dates back to a serendipitous discovery in 1909 when an oil exploration team found warm springs along the San Marcos River in what is now the Palmetto State Park. Almost 30 years later, during a polio epidemic, the Center was established in 1937 as the Gonzales Warm Springs Foundation for Crippled Children-the first rehabilitation hospital in Texas. Its reputation grew, and long after the Salk vaccine for all intents and purposes ended polio, the therapeutic benefits from the warm springs, and supporting treatment continued. The Warm Springs Rehabilitation System has now expanded far from the geographic area of the first discovery. Polio was also the catalyst for the West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene. Originally the Taylor County Society for Crippled Children, the center was first housed in two classrooms of a local elementary school with a staff of three and just 17 young patients. The first year's operating budget was $10,000. The center became the nation's largest provider of outpatient rehabilitation services. Now, 17,000 children and adults with disabilities are treated annually in Abilene and the satellite center in San Angelo. Rehabilitation programs integrating physical and psychological needs precipitated a new phase in the treatment of people with disabilities.

The Last Half of the Twentieth Century

The last half of the Twentieth Century ushered in dramatic changes for Texans with disabilities. Parent and self-advocacy groups began advocating for improvements and likewise, services increased greatly. Although institutional services increased, focus began to shift toward providing services in local communities. Schools began serving students with disabilities rather than students attending residential disability-specific schools.


Several people with disabilities became leaders of the State, serving as members of Congress, the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Legislature, and various state boards. Criss Cole, blinded in World War II, completed high school, got his law degree in 1954, and was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1955. He later served in the Texas Senate from 1963 to 1970. He helped pass bills regarding pollution, multiple use of Texas water, the establishment of the Padre Island National Seashore, improving vocational rehabilitation, as well as banning racial discrimination in state and local governments. In 1971, Criss Cole was appointed as judge presiding over the 315th District Court which handled juvenile cases. He chaired many efforts and was vice president of the Texas Air and Water Resources Foundation. He successfully gained funding for a rehabilitation center serving Texans who are blind which was named after him.
In 1967, Barbara Jordan became the first black person to serve in the Texas Senate since 1883, and in 1972 was elected President Pro Tempore. She became known for her distinct diction and forceful delivery on a wide range of subjects. In 1973, she became the first black woman from a Southern state to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Barbara Jordan delivered the keynote addresses at the 1976 and 1992 Democratic Conventions, emphasizing unity, equality, accountability and American ideals. Retiring from Congress in 1979, she became a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and became known as an outstanding educator. She is in the National Women's Hall of Fame and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. Barbara Jordan allowed the Governor's Committee to name its media awards after her, and presented them in 1993. She coped routinely with the challenges presented by multiple sclerosis.
In 1995, Governor George W. Bush appointed Greg Abbott to the Texas Supreme Court; he was elected to continue this service in 1996 and 1998. Prior to his appointment, Justice Abbott presided over the 12th District Court in Houston. In 1984, Justice Abbott became a wheelchair user when he was injured by a falling tree limb while jogging. He continued his career receiving many honors. He was selected Trial Judge of the Year by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. Additionally, he was honored as an Outstanding Young Texan by the Texas Jaycees.
Several key events illustrated progress of Texans with disabilities during the latter part of this century. Texas commemorated its Sesquicentennial in 1986. In December of that year, the Governor's Committee assisted with a celebration illustrating how Texans with disabilities contributed to our state. More than one thousand pieces of colorful artwork prepared by students with disabilities hung in the Capitol, and ceremonies emphasized contributions by people with disabilities. The Chairman of the Council on Disabilities Task Force on the Sesquicentennial event, said: "This celebration is a time for all Texans to remember the brave men and women who fought for our independence, and it is also a time to dedicate ourselves to the removal of barriers which impair a disabled person's search for complete independence."

The President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities held its 1991 annual meeting in Dallas, the first time they met outside Washington D.C. This meeting drew approximately 6,000 people, over 1,000 more than expected, in celebration of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.






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