Easter Seals, Inc.
Easter Seals, Inc.
Founded: 1919 as the Ohio Society for Crippled Children
Operating Revenues: $583 million (2001)
NAIC: 813219 Other Grantmaking and Giving Services
Easter Seals, Inc., is a network of affiliates throughout the United States and Puerto Rico serving people with disabilities. Through 160 local Easter Seals Societies and more than 450 service sites, the organization provides physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and hearing therapy, vocational training and placement, camping and other recreational opportunities, child care, and adult day care services to more than one million individuals and families each year. In addition, Easter Seals is an important advocate at the national level for people with disabilities and has successfully lobbied for federal legislation including the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibits discrimination against anyone with a mental or physical disability. Easter Seals is perennially recognized for its pioneering work and the effectiveness of its programs. In 2001 Worth magazine named Easter Seals one of the “100 American philanthropies most likely to save the world.” For 22 years in a row the National Health Council has named Easter Seals first among its members in the percentage of program dollars allocated to direct client services. Moreover, in 2002 the Direct Marketing Association named Easter Seals its Non Profit Organization of the Year for its “innovative performance and outstanding accomplishments.”
Founding and Growth
In 1907, Ohio businessman Edgar Allen lost his son in a tragic streetcar accident, in part due to inadequate medical services. Allen sold his business and devoted the rest of his life to philanthropy, raising funds for a local hospital and, in 1919, founding the Ohio Society for Crippled Children. With the help of local Rotary Clubs, he lobbied the state legislature to provide funding for the care of children with disabilities, planning to rely on contributions from service organizations like the Rotary to support the facilities. Legislation supporting Allen’s initiative was passed in 1920, and centers for children with disabilities were opened at hospitals throughout Ohio. In 1921 the National Society for Crippled Children was founded, with Allen as president, and by 1929 the organization had grown to 33 state societies, but with the onset of the Great Depression, both government funding and private support plummeted. To offset the losses, in 1934 the Society built a fund-raising campaign around Easter seals: colorful stamps that were used to thank donors and were used by donors to show support. The first seal was designed by J.H. Donahey, a cartoonist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, who created a simple design because people served by the organization asked “simply for the right to live a normal life.” The first campaign raised $47,000, or more than twice the Society’s average annual budget. In 1944 the organization expanded its mission to include adults with disabilities, changing its name to the Society for Crippled Children and Adults.
In 1952, the lily, a symbol of the spring season and Christian resurrection, was made the organization’s official symbol, and the lily has appeared on the seals since that time. During the 1960s the organization expanded dramatically as a result of increased public support, and in 1967 its name was changed to the National Easter Seal Society for Crippled Children and Adults to acknowledge the popular seal. During the 1970s, a movement arose to drop the words “Crippled Children and Adults” from the name, with proponents arguing that the word “crippled” was insensitive and did not apply to all people with disabilities. As a result, in 1979 the name was changed to the National Easter Seal Society.
During the early years of Easter Seals, the organization’s advertising featured children, with such slogans as, “Hey Mister! Lend Me a Dollar to Help Me Walk!” Over time, adults with disabilities came to be seen as equally deserving of support, and Easter Seals’ advertising reflected its expanded mission. During the 1970s, the focus of Easter Seals’ advertising changed from disabilities and dependence to the resilience of its clients, and its campaigns featured such slogans as “Back a Fighter” and “Put Ability into Disability.” In 1972, Easter Seals held a fundraising telethon, the first in an annual series that raised both awareness and donations to unprecedented levels. The first telethon, broadcast from Las Vegas, raised nearly $800,000; just over 20 years later, the 1994 telethon raised more than $52 million. At the same time, the organization sought to use the annual telethon as a platform to educate viewers about Easter Seals programs, issues affecting people with disabilities, and new legislation. Easter Seals also solicited donations via direct mail campaigns and corporate sponsorships. Corporate sponsors provided funding and underwrite public education campaigns; such companies as Safeway, Eddie Bauer, and Century 21 Real Estate have sponsored campaigns on accessible housing, detecting disabilities in small children, and the value of marketing to people with disabilities. In addition, corporate sponsors frequently became involved in Easter Seals’ mission, with staff members volunteering at service centers and organizing fund-raising events.
Advocacy and Services
During the 1930s Easter Seals began working for federal laws to benefit people with disabilities. Its first major victory was the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935, which provided for services and facilities for children with disabilities. In 1973 Easter Seals established an Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., to spearhead its legislative efforts. The office worked toward legislation to help people with disabilities find employment, appropriate and affordable health care, and education. Successes included the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1986, the Air Carrier Access Act of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Office of Public Affairs also worked to secure federal funding for Easter Seals programs.
Easter Seals provided a continually expanding array of services to help people with disabilities lead happier, more independent lives. The organization’s medical rehabilitation services were offered at Easter Seals Child Development Centers, outpatient centers, and adult day care centers, as well as at schools and in individual homes. These services could be paid for by insurance companies, Medicare or Medicaid, or by individual clients. They included an “early intervention” program, which helped infants and toddlers with special needs developtheir cognitive, social, communication, and physical skills. For example, therapists could help a baby learn to hold a bottle, roll over, or eat. Physical therapy, which was offered to both children and adults, helped increase strength and mobility lost through injury, disease, aging, or congenital abnormalities. Occupational therapy helped people develop skills necessary in everyday life, such as bathing, dressing, or cooking, as well as skills important in the workplace. Speech and hearing therapy sought to enhance communication skills, helping adults and children who stutter, experience problems with articulation, or have cognitive difficulties or delayed language skills. Assistive technology services helped people discover tools including Braille-equipped computer systems, voice-command telephones, and devices to scan and read documents—and, just as important, low-tech tools such as canes, walkers, foot rests, and height-adjustable tables.
Toward the Future
Easter Seals’ job training and employment services helped people with disabilities enter or re-enter the workforce. Easter Seals Child Development Centers provided high-quality day care with individualized learning plans, highly qualified teachers, and strong parental involvement. The organization also established 140 fully accessible camping and recreational sites that offered day and residential camping opportunities, as well as weekend and after-school programs. Easter Seals also provided day care programs for aging adults and adults with disabilities, with accompanying health and social services.
For more than 82 years, Easter Seals has used its expertise and resources to create services that offer solutions for children and adults with disabilities seeking greater independence, and support for their families. Today, more than ever, families need to know that their loved ones are receiving the best care, in a safe and caring environment. This is Easter Seals’ promise—to create solutions that change lives for children and adults with disabilities and increase independence through Easter Seals primary services.
- Organization is founded by Edgar Allen as the Ohio Society for Crippled Children.
- The National Society for Crippled Children is founded.
- First “Easter seal” fund-raising campaign.
- Mission expands to include services for adults.
- The Easter Seals name is adopted.
- First Easter Seals telethon is held.
- Organization helps pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Easter Seals is recognized by the National Health Council for the 22nd consecutive year.
After celebrating its 75th anniversary in 1994, Easter Seals began preparing its agenda for the next 75, taking into consideration the inevitable changes in public policy, technological advances, and emerging needs of its consituents. The organization’s ability to adapt to changing needs was evidenced in 2001 when an unforeseen catastrophe, the collapse of the World Trade Center, highlighted the importance of emergency evacuation planning for people with disabilities. Easter Seals created a Web-based information program with topics including carry techniques, how to move a wheelchair down stairs, and model building codes. James E. Williams, Jr., the president and CEO of Easter Seals, said, “It’s critical that people understand that [evacuating people with disabilities] is not an impossible situation—it’s very doable, but each one of us has the responsibility to make sure it gets done.” He added, “The big issue here is building a sense of community wherever you are so that people are taking care of each other”—a statement that could serve equally well as the motto of Easter Seals.
“Easter Seals Creating Solutions, Changing Lives,” Exceptional Parent, July 2000, p. 78.
“Easter Seals Finds New Challenge in Wake of Terrorist Attacks,” Association Management, December 2002, p. 22.
“Giving for Government,” Wall Street Journal, April 5, 1999, p. 1.
“National Health Council Names Easter Seals First among Its Members for the Percentage of Program Dollars Spent Providing Direct Client Services,” PR Newswire, May 18, 1998, p. 1.
Williams, James E., Jr., “75 Years of Caring for the Disabled,” Fund Raising Management, September 1994, p. 12.
——, “Easter Seals Transforms the Telethon,” Fund Raising Management, September 1995, p. 28.
Yorgey, Lisa A., “Nonprofit CRM,” Target Marketing, July 2002, p. 42.