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Education, Advocacy and Justice for All Scholarship Honors Special Education Department Chair Ruth Luckasson

by Hilary Mayall Jetty

The Los Lunas Hospital and Training School was once the primary institution in New Mexico to care for people with developmental disabilities. It opened in 1929, and no longer exists, but it played a major role in setting the course of Ruth Luckasson’s life and career. When she was a young child, her family worked and lived on the school grounds. Her observations awakened a compassion that has echoed through decades of profound commitment to citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“With my seven year-old mind, I couldn’t figure out why I got to live with my family there,” she remarked, “and other children, older and younger than me, didn’t get to live with their families. That unfairness planted its seed in my heart, and over the years that’s been the thread that ties all my pieces together.”

Professor Ruth A. Luckasson’s caring and concern for this unique and often vulnerable population led her to a distinguished career spanning more than 40 years in the field of Special Education. In addition, her experience as a lawyer enables her to serve as a respected expert and advocate in legal proceedings affecting rights and protections for people with disabilities. An endowed scholarship in her honor established by colleagues, family, friends and community members recognizes her service and professional achievements.

Under Luckasson’s guidance, the core principles of the COEHS Department of Special Education inspire colleagues and students. “Our mission is to make sure that every person with a disability is valued and loved,” she explained, “because they contribute to, and are an essential part of their communities; a community of learners, their neighborhood community, and their extended family.”

For decades, Luckasson has served on and led committees for Legal Advocacy and Policy and Positions at The Arc of the US, an organization dedicated to protecting the civil and human rights and dignity of those with developmental disabilities across the country.

A prolific author and contributor to books and articles related to special education, human rights, clinical judgment and the criminal justice system, she co-authored several editions of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities’ seminal reference materials, which are utilized internationally. Luckasson also served on The World Health Organization’s Working Group on the Classification of Intellectual Disabilities, and President Clinton’s President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

Recently, Luckasson was one of 87 individuals honored by the National Historic Recognition Project, a consortium of national and regional organizations recognizing those who have made substantial contributions to the field of intellectual and developmental disability over the past two decades.

As impressive as her professional accomplishments are, it is her humanity and personal devotion that are equally appreciated with the creation of this scholarship, according to Maryann Trott, Chair of the COEHS Alumni Board.

“Ruth has never failed to be kind, gracious and willing to go to great lengths to help her students, as well as those to whom her life is dedicated,” Trott declared. “She models respect, inclusion and passion for equality and justice.”

The Professor Ruth A. Luckasson Endowed Scholarship in Special Education is intended for academically outstanding students interested in working with individuals with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Surprised and deeply impressed by the creation of the scholarship, Luckasson shared her thoughts on its impact. “Scholarships are important on two levels,” she stated. Students need financial help to to get through their degrees and make their commitment real. But on a symbolic level a scholarship sends a message to a student that says ‘come along, this is a good path for you, you can do it and we’ll help you’ on an extremely personal level.”

“We prepare more Special Education teachers than any other program in the state, Luckasson noted. “They are confident, competent, and committed educators and leaders. When I think back in our history, we have made a lot of progress, but there is more to do.”

(Every contribution to the Professor Ruth A. Luckasson Endowed Scholarship in Special Education ensures that her legacy can help support an increasing number of students seeking to work toward the advancement of educational quality and equality for individuals with disabilities.)

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