Thursday, December 1, 2011

Dorothy Seale Brown

Dot is an amazing woman, one of the most positive people I know, and also a tireless advocate for social and educational opportunities for children.  I've known her for many years, but had fallen out of touch in the last few years.

She told me her greatest goal and accomplishment in life was being useful: using her knowledge and skills in a way that would make a difference in her lifetime.  She had the ability, education and drive to help improve the lives of others, especially children, and she enjoyed it all along the way.

Dot was born on Long Island, NY in 1928.  She says it's hard for people now to realize that Long Island was so rural, "cow country" at that time.  She remembers her grandmother sending her across the road to fetch milk the farmer squirted directly from the cow into her pail.  After her family lost everything in the Great Depression, Dot worked hard to attend nursing school, then worked as a nurse to put herself through college, earning her degree in education from New York University.

Dot moved to Vermont in 1952 where she worked as a school counselor while raising her family and earning a Masters Degree in psychology from the University of Vermont in 1980.  Until the 1960s Vermont schools had no budget for school counselors and no money for children with special needs, mental or physical disabilities.  As Dot said, "There was no way to deal with children with disabilities and nowhere to refer them.  They just had to go home."

During her nearly 30 year career in education in Vermont, Dot took on a number of leadership roles promoting education for all children with or without disabilities.  She says she was not always popular with school boards as there was just never enough money and the schools themselves were often so antiquated that access, assistance and infrastructure for special needs kids was just unavailable.  Dot was involved when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children.

Change began to come when a profound and historic shift in disability public policy occurred in 1973 with the passage by Congress of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Section 504, which banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds, was modeled after previous laws which banned race, ethnic origin and sex based discrimination by federal fund recipients.

Dot was able to travel extensively in support of her Masters Degree, to research advances in child development and educational access opportunities and later, just for fun.  After retirement she spent ten years as a volunteer for Vermont Legal Aid, working as an ombudsman, visiting nursing homes throughout the state to talk with patients about their treatment at the facilities and refer cases that might need problems resolved.

Dot suffers from "arthritis, head to toe", but stays as active as she can and says, "I could have worse things".  She's a weekly hospice care volunteer for the VNA, leads book club discussions, stays active in her women's support group and spends time with her children and grandchildren.  She enjoys listening to books on tape, doing word puzzles and the occasional card game.

I really enjoyed seeing her again.  Her happy, hopeful, enthusiastic and upbeat personality is wonderful to be around.