A Tribute to Major Owens
By Martha Ziegler, Founder, Federation for Children with Special Needs;
Charlotte “Dee” Spinkston, Director, Urban Pride; and
Harvey Liebergott, Retired, US Department of Education, Boston, Massachusetts
At a time when the U.S. Congress is under public scrutiny, the integrity, intelligence, and commitment of Major Owens seem almost to represent a platonic ideal. With his wife, Maria Cuprill and the superb staff they put together, Congressman Owens was at the front of every major legislative effort to improve the education and lives of people with disabilities. Many members of Congress spend much of their time soliciting contributions for their campaigns, but Owens spent virtually all of his time working on federal legislation, and on addressing the needs of his district.
Major Owens never raised enough money to run television commercials, but his record of accomplishments was always enough to get him re-elected. Along the way, he stood up to racism and other forms of discrimination from wherever it came, and to federal officials, who tried to do less than the laws required.
Congressman Owens brought progressive changes to the federal special education law, changing the name to IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and even more important, initiating the program of CPRCs, Community Parent Resource Centers. The CPRCs work with the PTIs, Parent Training and Information centers, to bring specialized services to parents of diverse backgrounds and to ensure that these parents are heard. Congressman Owens also played a major role in the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the law that brought an end to legal discrimination against people with disabilities. The Congress, the American people, and especially people with disabilities owe an eternal debt of gratitude to this hero.