KU News Release


April 25, 2011
Contact: Jill Jess, University Relations, 785-864-8858

Professor Rud Turnbull wins special education lifetime achievement award

Rud Turnbull


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LAWRENCE — H. Rutherford “Rud” Turnbull III, the Ross and Marianna Beach Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas, will be recognized for his work to improve education for children and youth with disabilities with a lifetime achievement award.

Turnbull, a faculty member in the Department of Special Education and co-director of the Beach Center on Disability, will receive the 2011 J.E. Wallace Wallin Special Education Lifetime Achievement Award from the Council for Exceptional Children on April 25 at its 2011 Convention and Expo in National Harbor, Md.

The award recognizes an individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Turnbull was selected for his 40-year career as an advocate for individuals with disabilities, their families and the professionals who serve them.

“Rud Turnbull is certainly deserving of this outstanding recognition,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “He has dedicated his career to improving the lives of others and ensuring that no one is denied an adequate education because of a disability.”

Turnbull was among the first lawyers to focus on special education and disability law and has been enormously influential on state and federal legislation regarding restraint and seclusion, end-of-life decision-making, child abuse and protection, guardianship and other issues. He has also helped bring the needs of families to the field, allowing professionals to work with them more effectively.

Troubled by the lack of early childhood services available for his son Jay, born in 1967 with a significant intellectual disability, Turnbull shifted his career focus to disability law and advocacy in the early 1970s.

“Rud did not choose the field of special education, but rather the field chose him,” said Ann P. Turnbull, his wife and professional partner and a professor and senior scientist at KU, who was among those who supported his nomination for the award.

At the time of his death in 2009, Jay lived what the Turnbull family calls “an enviable life”: He resided in his own home, enjoyed long-term employment and had many friends. Turnbull has dedicated his career to obtaining that same dignity and success for all persons with disabilities.

In 1988, Rud and Ann Turnbull founded the Beach Center on Disability to improve the quality of life for families and individuals affected by disability through excellence in research, teaching and technical assistance.

Turnbull served on the team that drafted the regulations implemented in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“Rud Turnbull has been a leader in the field of special education policy for 40 years,” said Rick Ginsberg, dean of the School of Education. “He has had a hand in drafting some of the most meaningful legislation in America’s history impacting individuals with disabilities and his ongoing work with the Beach Center for Disability at KU focuses on quality of life issues for individuals with disabilities and their families. While in China several years ago, faculty at several leading universities pointed out to me that his work has been translated into Chinese and his books used at major universities in that growing nation. This award recognizes the global, national and local impact he has had across his career in the field.”

Turnbull has written 30 books, 125 peer-reviewed articles and dozens of monographs and reports on disability law and policy. In 1978, he and Ann penned the first textbook on special education law, “Free Appropriate Public Education,” now in its seventh edition.

Turnbull has won awards from organizations such as the Arc, American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, American Association on Mental Retardation and Kansas Council for Exceptional Children and its Division on Autism and Developmental Disabilities. He received the council’s Distinguished Public Service Award in 1996. In 1999, both Rud and Ann Turnbull won a “Historic Century Award” from the American Association on Mental Retardation for changing the course of history for mentally retarded people.


The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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