A History of Programs of The Arc


The Arc of Washington State advocates for the rights and full participation of all people with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD). Along with our network of members and chapters, we support and empower individuals and families; connect and inform individuals and families; improve support and service systems; influence public policy; increase public awareness; and inspire inclusive communities. Our vision is for a world where people with I/DD are included in their communities and neighborhoods and where quality supports and services respond to their needs and personal choices. The Arc fulfills its mission and vision through many programs. It takes a variety of methods to address the wide range of needs of individuals with I/DD and their families.


Past Programs – The Foundation for Our Work


The Beginning: On February 21, 1935 James Oakley spoke to a small group of parents who met at the County-City Building in downtown Seattle. Mr. Oakley shared his desire to form a group to provide support to families who had a child with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) and who were faced with the heartbreak of placing their child out-of-home. He also wanted to find ways to improve the lives of their children who were living at the State Custodial School in Medical Lake, Washington. In 1936 the Children’s Benevolent League (CBL) of Washington was established. The CBL has continued to grow and evolve over the years; now it is known as The Arc of Washington State.


Charity: One of the first projects the parents and families of the CBL decided to do was to provide small items, such as books and toys, to the children living in the institution.


Advocacy: In 1936 the CBL tried to get legislation passed that would change the Superintendent’s position at the State Custodial School from being an appointment of the Governor; they were not successful. Knowing they needed help from legislators, the CBL’s first President, Monty Percival, ran for the State Senator of the 28th legislative district. On October 6, 1936 the CBL’s Secretary, E.G. Auerswald, wrote an advocacy letter to CBL members, urging them to educate their elected officials. Monty Percival won the Senate seat with an overwhelming majority! He was appointed chairman of the State Charitable Institutions Committee. Legislative advocacy became the means to achieving their goals. To learn more about the history of The Arc’s advocacy movement check out Doing Disability Justice by Larry A. Jones.


Residential: From the very beginning, the families of The Arc have always been concerned about residential services for their loved ones with I/DD. In 1936 the only option available to families was to place their child out-of-home as “inmates” at the State Custodial School in Eastern Washington. Senator Percival secured funding in 1937 for a second state school in Western Washington. On Sept 1, 1939 the first residents move from Medical Lake to the new Rainier School in Buckley, Washington. In the 1950s, the CBL experienced division as some parents stayed focused on expanding and improving the state institutions, while others wanted to focus on services that would help them keep their child at home and educated with their peers. In 1966 newspapers report on the poor conditions and abuse at state schools. A national pictorial expose called Christmas in Purgatory was published. In the 1970s, the number of residents at the state institutions begins to decline as families from The Arc continue to advocate for services in their local communities.


Family Support: In 1941, parents push for the establishment of a family support program. At that time, “family support” consists of a state social worker from Medical Lake who provided in-home training to parents. Newland Reilly (then President of the CBL) was quoted as saying “Washington appears to be leading in experiments with what is known as family care and foster homes…the extension of this program means that the child can remain in society, perhaps becoming an economic asset, and the state is saved the cost of institutional care for it.”


Education: In the 1930s the only means of education for children with I/DD was placement in a State Custodial School. In 1947 parents successfully advocated to have the word “Custodial” removed from the names of the schools. In the 1950s, Washington State was still expanding state institutions, but there was a growing movement from families to keep their children with disabilities at home. This created a new push toward allowing students with I/DD to have the right to a public education. Members of The Arc had been instrumental in passing HB 310 in 1951, but it would take another two decades before that public education for all could be enforceable. It was not until 1971 that a small but fierce group calling itself the Education for All Committee worked with two law students, to craft legislation that would mandate public education for all children with disabilities age 3-21.


Employment/Day Programs: When the CBL formed in the 1930s parents they wanted to have their children experience happiness and enjoyment in their lives. Institutional life was known as people with I/DD sitting in lines of chairs with nothing to do all day. Parents collected toys and books, tools and other items that would provide them with activity. Older boys at the institutions were taught gardening or farming; girls were taught sewing and other housekeeping skills. In 1961, as some parents pushed for community living instead of institutional care, the passage of the Epton Center Act launched community services such as developmental centers and group training homes. In 1965 the Olympic Center in Bremerton opened as a multipurpose service center, including day programs for persons with I/DD. In 1967 Washington State adopts a system of state and county services. State services are associated with institutions and county services with community-based supports. Finally, in 1991, employment services for high school transition graduates with I/DD are funded for the first time.


Self-Advocacy: By the late 1990’s, The Arc puts its resources toward strengthening self-advocacy in the legislative arena. For the first time in Washington State history, people with developmental disabilities are beginning to form a political force. In 1990, Congress signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The US Supreme Court issues the “Olmstead v. L.C.” decision in 1999, reaffirming the right of persons with disabilities to move out of institutions and receive care in the community. Many adults with I/DD find themselves free after spending decades of their lives locked away in institutions. They join the self-advocacy movement to try to educate members of the public as well as families of those still in institutions that life is far better for them living in their community. To see brief video statements from some of these self-advocates go to
When Self Advocates in Leadership (SAIL), a coalition supported through a grant from the Developmental Disabilities Council, has its first bill introduced and passed in 2004—The Respectful Language Act—the state is put on notice: People with developmental disabilities demand respect. It is the first bill of its kind in the country.


Endowment Trust Fund: In 1999, SB 5693 establishes the DD Endowment Trust Fund. The legislature created this trust with $5 million dollars and slated the funding for 1,000 recipients. Families or individuals who were clients of the Division of Developmental Disabilities could put money into their trust account on a monthly basis. The State would provide some matching funding.


Although the 1960’s bring the greatest growth in institutionalization, The Arc is heavily involved in pursuing a comprehensive system of services “from cradle to grave” in the community. Education and vocational services, as well as the beginning signs of community residential alternatives, emerge alongside the explosion of institutional placements, which had risen to an all time high of 4,197 residents by 1968. This time period also saw more parents who had placed their sons and daughters in institutions began to gravitate toward groups formed by parents at each of the institutions. By the 70’s, the majority of members of The Arc are now parents whose children live at home with them—representing a meaningful shift in membership. Local chapters of The Arc become more focused on their roles as service providers, and the state chapter steers funding and state policy toward integration and community-based services.


Current programs include:


Parent to Parent provides emotional support and information to families of children with special needs and/or disabilities. Learning that your child has I/DD can be a traumatic experience. Parents have many questions and concerns in coping with their child’s needs and their own feelings. Personal support from another parent, who has a child with similar needs, can be helpful in coping with these challenging experiences and feelings. Helping Parents (volunteer mentors) are available to provide support and information.


The Advocacy Partnership Project is a program that provides information on legislative issues to families and self advocates that empower them to have a voice in the legislative process. Advocacy Days are hosted weekly during legislative session as a way to encourage people to use their voice on issues important to them. Video podcasts are created weekly during session through a partnership between the DDC and The Arc of Washington.


Self Advocates In Leadership (SAIL) is a program which focuses on bringing self advocates together, providing information and technical assistance to assist them in representing their needs to their families, providers and legislative representatives.


The Life Opportunities Trust (formerly the DD Endowment Trust Fund) is a public-private partnership that makes it possible for families to enhance the quality of life for their loved ones with an I/DD, and for individuals with I/DD to participate in their own financial future. The Arc of Washington State has been selected as Trust Manager for the fund. We provide information, enrollment assistance and the administration of individual trust accounts.


Medicaid Personal Care Training (MPC) provides information, resources and training to parents who are providing care for their adult sons and daughters with I/DD.


Brochures, booklets, DVDs and other publications are available from The Arc of Washington on these projects and other important topics.
You can call (888) 754-8798 for more information or email


Material from Larry Jones’ “Doing Disability Justice” used by permission.