A lifelong advocate for special education, Ken Oakes credits the start of
his journey with The Arc at age 17 when he was a member of The Youth Arc in
Erie, Pennsylvania. The Youth Arc was a program designed to get teenagers
involved with the disability movement in a volunteer, community basis. As a
teenager, Ken never dreamed that he would one day be on the national board
of The Arc.
Coming from a family of educators, Ken knew he was destined to be a teacher
and his focus was on becoming a Social Studies teacher when he entered
college. However, that plan took a sharp turn when he was late registering
for a course and the only available option was special education in a
segregated high school. Located in the basement of an abandoned church, his
experiences opened Ken's eyes to a career in special education. This path,
along with his work with Youth Arc, was the start of a life-long passion
for special education and advocating for individuals with intellectual and
After college, and inspired by his work with Youth Arc, Ken taught at the
Barber National Institute in Erie as a special education teacher which led
him to working with The Arc of Erie County. He became a voice for the local
chapter and a strong advocate for special education.
A career opportunity took Ken to Harrisburg to work at the state level for
special education advocacy and he worked with The Arc of Pennsylvania where
he eventually became president of the state chapter, again advocating for
and promoting inclusion in education for all students in public schools in
the state of Pennsylvania.
After moving to Philadelphia, he was inspired by a friendship with leaders
of The Arc of Philadelphia to become involved in their efforts. In fact,
two days after retiring from teaching, he joined the Board of The Arc of
Philadelphia and eventually becoming the President and Chair.
Now an Adjunct Professor in the Education Department at Chestnut Hill
College, Ken credits his advocacy work at all levels of The Arc with making
him a better teacher and administrator.
As a member of the national board of The Arc, Ken is still working towards
the same goal that he started with as a special education major, to ensure
that an inclusive education is ingrained in our national education systems.
"Parents have big dreams for their kids. We want them to keep those dreams.
Dream Big. Keep those Dreams Big."
Advocating for special education is truly Ken's passion and his work with
The Arc at all levels has been the inspiration for making a gift to The Arc
through his estate plans. "A planned gift made today can impact the future
of The Arc and The Arc is why I'm in special education today."