The Wisconsin Disability Assocation was formed in Wisconsin as the Wisconsin Council for Mentally Retarded Children at a parent meeting held at Southern Center in 1949. This Council was initiated by a group of parents who had begun meeting as early as 1946. On November 9, 1949 the organization was officially incorporated and later became known as The Wisconsin Association for Retarded Children and subsequently Retarded Citizens (WARC).
These family members with the help of a small group of professionals had as their goals the improvement of the horrible conditions at the state institutions and subsequently the development of a community service and education system for children and adults with mental retardation. At that time no services existed except for the inhumane state institutions. Parents provided for their sons and daughters at home with no assistance whatsoever or placed their son or daughter in the state facility.
In the early 1950's local Arc chapters were formed in Madison, Beloit, Manitowoc, Wausau, Janesville, Eau Claire and Milwaukee. By the end of the 1950's there were 24 local chapters and 1000 members. The first paid staff person was hired in 1958, and an office was set up in Milwaukee. The office was moved to Madison in 1964.
The Arc's financial support began in 1948 with a fundraiser that raised $7000. A very successful first Friendship Campaign raised nearly $100,000 in 1965. This became an annual statewide fundraiser that continued for almost 10 years.
In 1967 the Youth Arc in Wisconsin was organized for young people (under 25) with and without developmental disabilities. Through working, playing and learning together real friendships were formed and some youth were led to careers in education, medicine, and other fields providing services for people with developmental disabilities.
In its early years The Arc played a major role in establishing the first sheltered workshops, day care programs and a Boy Scout Troop. In fact in 1950 a group of parents in Milwaukee began their own school for children with moderate to severe cognitive disabilities since the public schools would not serve these children. This became a model for expansion of education programs in the public schools and by 1958 53 classes and 500 children with more severe cognitive disabilities were in public schools.
During the 1960's and 1970's The Arc members and staff worked to accomplish the enactment of the Day Care Law (s.51.38) and the passage of federal legislation to provide day care monies for people with mental retardation. This, however, was only the beginning. After much work with legislators, governors, and state officials, in 1971 The Arc got passed The Wisconsin Developmental Disabilities Act (s.51.437). This established in law comprehensive community programs for people with developmental disabilities and their families and exits to this day as the basis for community services.
In 1974 The Arc helped get passed Chapter 115 which guaranteed all students with special education needs the right to a public school education. Revisions to the Mental Health Act (Chapter 51) and Guardianship and Protective Services (Chapters 880 and 55) legislation were the result of efforts that involved The Arc.
The WARC Research Institute was established in 1970 and in 1971 the New Concepts Foundation was established to provide small group community living for people with developmental disabilities.
In 1950 The Arc of the United States was formed as the National Association for Retarded Children and subsequently Retarded Citizens (NARC). The Arc-Wisconsin has been a part of The Arc of the U.S. from its beginning. In 1992 after the NARC membership voted to change its name to The Arc, the WARC officially became The Arc-Wisconsin with the byline "Advocating Rights of Citizens with Disabilities". The name change was brought about because people with disabilities began to be much more involved in The Arc's governance and activities and did not want to be labeled in any way. Supporting the self-advocacy movement and self-determination is an ever-increasing part of The Arc.
A more recent milestone was the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Family Care was initiated as a pilot program in 5 Counties in 1999. Its future is in doubt. As The Arc moves deeper into the 21st Century, it again is involved in trying to obtain essential services for people. The Arc is leading the initiative with the DD Council to end the waiting list for basic services in Wisconsin. Over 10,000 people and families are waiting for services. Over $50 Million is needed in state funds to end waiting lists. This effort had limited success in the 2001-03 Budget and the effort will get stronger for the 2003-05 State Budget.
During 1998 and 1999 many changes occurred at The Arc-Wisconsin. While advocating rights continues to be a major priority, with the revision of the Mission/Vision statement came a modification of the Byline to "Promoting Quality of Life for Persons with Developmental and Related Disabilities". This reflects the expanded role The Arc must have not only in public policy and advocacy but also in improving services and quality of life through training, program design, consultation to counties and private providers, information and assistance services and guardianships.
On November 9, 1999 The Arc-Wisconsin celebrated 50 years of service. At the September 2000 Annual Meeting The Arc-Wisconsin changed its name to The Arc-Wisconsin Disability Association, but was still known frequently with the shorter name of The Arc or The Arc-Wisconsin.
As a result of the decision of the national staff of The Arc to disaffiliate The Arc-Wisconsin Disability Association as a state chapter of The Arc, the name of the organization was changed to The Wisconsin Disability Association in March of 2016.
This brief history recognizes the accomplishments of those who have worked so diligently for the rights, services and quality of life for the people and families The Wisconsin Disability Association exists to serve. The Wisconsin Disability Association is dedicated to "Keeping the Commitment and Expanding the Vision" in the 21st Century.