Our organization began as an informal, adhoc group of disability leaders and volunteers known as the Coalition for Community Services. Their goal was to assure that Tennesseans with disabilities had access to home- and community-based services. The group started small but grew quickly as other organizations learned of the effort. The very first meeting to talk about formalizing our group took place in 1988. Spearheading the effort to formalize were four groups:
- Arc of Tennessee led by Roger Blue
- United Cerebral Palsy of Middle Tennessee led by Pat Huber
- Autism Society of America – Tennessee led by Joe Marshall
- Developmental Disabilities Council led by Wanda Willis
The first capacity-building grant was awarded to the Coalition in 1989 by the Tennessee Developmental Disabilities Council as the Coalition changed its name to the Coalition for Tennesseans with Disabilities. The Arc of Davidson County provided matching funds for the grant and over the next year a corporate charter was filed, a mission statement developed, a membership brochure drafted, by-laws adopted, a steering committee created, and topical task forces were developed.
On November 1, 1990, the first executive director was hired – Carol Westlake. In addition, the number of member organizations grew to ten including: People First of Tennessee, the League for the Hearing Impaired (now League for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing), the Community Rehabilitation Agencies (now TNCO), and several local Arc chapters.
The first original legislation tackled by the Coalition was the Family Support Act in 1991. The legislation, drafted and lobbied for by the Coalition, was passed by the General Assembly in 1992.
Also in 1991, the Coalition received a grant from the Council to set up a regional disability public awareness network, with nine public awareness liaisons.
The project was headed by Dara Howe, who generated public awareness materials and support for local events on a regular basis as well as coordinated efforts of the nine regional liaisons. Building on these efforts the Coalition membership grew to include dozens of organizations and in 1996 the name was changed to the Tennessee Disability Coalition.