Joe Damiano Says #HandsOff – Learn His Tips for Effective Advocacy

This is a new series at The Arc Blog called #HandsOff. Each month, we feature a story from individuals and families across The Arc’s network about how some of today’s key policy issues impact their day to day lives.

Joe DamianoMeet Joe Damiano! Joe is 23 years old and is a very active advocate in his home state of New York. Joe is the outreach director for The Arc’s National Council of Self-Advocates, a board member for a local non-profit, and the former chair of a self-advocacy group called the Collaborative of New York.

For the last several years, Joe has attended the Disability Policy Seminar in Washington, DC and participates in the lobby day to meet with his Members of Congress and talk about issues that are important to people with disabilities.

Here is what Joe had to say about his advocacy and his advice for others who want to get involved to tell Congress #HandsOff important programs:

How did you get involved in advocacy? What is your favorite part of being an advocate?
I’ve been doing advocacy my whole life! Once of my favorite examples of my advocacy work is when I was about 16, my dad took me to Albany, to the state capitol in New York to advocate for a bill to stop using the “r” word. It really resonated with me as a person with a disability. I heard that word in school a lot and I didn’t want people to use it anymore.

My favorite part in general is attending learning sessions like at the Disability Policy Seminar so I can learn about the latest issues. My favorite part about meeting with legislators is getting my point across.

Why do you think it’s important for people with disabilities to be strong advocates for programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)?
Programs like Medicaid and SSI help people with disabilities. Sometimes these programs are people’s only lifeline. They pretty much can’t live without it. It helps them to be independent. If Congress takes these programs away, many people will be impacted. If you’re not an advocate, those benefits may get taken away.

What advice do you have for self-advocates who want to get started in advocacy?
The first thing and the biggest thing, I would say, is find your local self-advocacy group. Self-advocacy groups can help you with tips on how to present to your legislators and how to get your message across, give you a chance to go to lobby days, and opportunities to meet with your legislators. They really help.

You can learn about upcoming meetings for The Arc’s National Council of Self Advocates here.

What tips do you have for self-advocates meeting with their legislators for the first time?
I made a presentation with tips for self-advocates meeting with their legislators. You can see it here.

One of the biggest things you have to do is have a group discussion, with whoever you are going with, to identify the issues you want to bring up at the meeting. It’s always good to invite other people to be part of the process, as long as they are people who support you. It’s always good to have other people be involved.

Be clear on what you what you want the legislator to achieve and make sure you have stories on that topic. Sometimes you meet with a legislator or aide that don’t understand the issues or that we have disabilities – you just have to be patient and educate them.

MediSked Applauds Strong Disability Rights Advocacy at The Arc of North Carolina

By Linda Nakagawa, Market Policy Analyst, MediSked

Advocacy is the foundation upon which the disability community has grown into a powerhouse. The future of the movement depends on the many advocates across the country who are engaging on the local, state, and national levels to protect the rights of people with disabilities and support their inclusion in the community.

The Arc of North Carolina uses MediSked products for data tracking in their service delivery. The chapter is also an advocacy leader in the state, and we have long admired their strong commitment to their advocacy work. So we reached out to Melinda Plue, Director of Advocacy and Chapter Development at The Arc of North Carolina, to share some of the advocacy efforts the state chapter and its 23 member chapters have made this year.

The Arc of North Carolina has made use of the comprehensive advocacy toolkit provided by The Arc of the U.S. to play an active role in the fight to save Medicaid this year. Self-advocates and family members wrote powerful letters that were sent to The Arc to hand-deliver for state delegations. At the state level, The Arc of North Carolina has done media campaigns, lobbying, and rallies. The success of advocacy depends on real life stories, heartfelt letters as well as real data to back up the facts on which these issues are based.

Another area where The Arc of North Carolina has been especially active is in grassroots local advocacy and community engagement, in partnership with their member chapters. Some actions include:

  • Barrier Awareness Day: The Arc of Davidson County is hosting Barrier Awareness Day, to give individuals without disabilities the chance to navigate through life as someone who does experience a disability. Participants engage in simulations that mimic mobile, visual, and hearing impairments and are taken out into the community. The event leads residents to really think about the accessibility of their community.
  • Wings for Autism/Wings for All: Many chapters of The Arc in North Carolina participate in Wings for Autism®, a grant-funded program from The Arc’s national office that simulates an airport experience for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and individuals with I/DD. The program gives families the opportunity to experience, at no cost, all the processes involved with air travel.
  • Self-Advocates’ Conference: The Arc of Greensboro, The Arc of High Point, The Arc of Davidson County, and The Enrichment Center in Winston-Salem host a conference for self-advocates around the state. The conference, which is entering its sixth year, is planned by self-advocates and staff from the four chapters and focuses on vital information that self-advocates have identified wanting to learn more about. Beginning in March of 2018, this conference will be a part of the state’s annual Rooted in Advocacy conference, hosted by The Arc of North Carolina, as it has become so well-attended.
  • Self-Advocacy Movement: Self-advocates must be decision-makers during conversations that involve the disability community and for causes they are passionate about: “Decisions ABOUT me should INCLUDE me.” The current board president of the state chapter is a self-advocate, and self-advocates are on just about every board of local chapters of The Arc. The chapters of The Arc are proud of supporting self-advocates to teach them how to get involved on boards, not only at The Arc but for other organizations in their community.
  • Advocacy in Public Schools: Staff resources are dedicated to support families as they move through the special education process. Many local chapters and the state work together to empower families and teach them how to advocate for their children.

To know where advocacy can be most effective, you need to know who you serve and communities in which people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live alongside people without disabilities. MediSked partners with The Arc and supports chapters of The Arc across the country with MediSked Connect – Agency Management Platform. MediSked Connect is a platform that streamlines procedures and centralizes data with tailored workflows, detailed service documentation, holistic health data, outcome tracking and reporting, and integrated billing management that is implemented in a collaborative process with each agency.

This year, more than ever, we have been proud to partner with so many strong organizations as they deliver services in their community and fight for the future of services and supports for people with disabilities.

 

A Little Age, A Lot of Perspective

Jill Vaught, Executive Director of The Arc of Indiana Foundation 

It’s not very often that I’m happy to be reminded of how old I am. Today I was. You see, I grew up at a time when people with disabilities were considered disposable. If they hadn’t been sent to live in institutions, they lived in the community – but certainly weren’t included.

Today I received a photo. A student from the Erskine Green Training Institute (EGTI) had gone to one of the food courts at Ball State University for lunch. While there, he ran into friends from high school. He was invited to join their table and later go to a campus event with them.

What does this have to do with my age? I’m glad I’m old enough to remember when scenes like that weren’t possible. It helps me truly appreciate The Arc and how far we’ve come.

I have been lucky enough to work for The Arc in one way or another for 20 years. During that time I’ve seen some amazing things, but nothing has touched my heart quite like EGTI, which opened in Muncie, Indiana in January.

One of the many things that makes The Arc of Indiana such a special organization is that we still take our direction from self-advocates, families and our chapters. In 2012, it became very obvious that the lack of employment opportunities was an issue that had to be addressed.

The reason people with disabilities couldn’t find jobs wasn’t because they didn’t want to work. It wasn’t because our chapters weren’t working hard every day. It wasn’t that families weren’t trying. It always seemed to come back to training or, more specifically, the lack of good postsecondary training options.

In January, 2016, EGTI opened its doors to provide postsecondary vocational training opportunities in hospitality, food service and health care.   EGTI is housed inside a Courtyard by Marriott. Students reside in the hotel for 10 – 13 weeks as they attend classes, receive hands on training and gain experience though an internship. In addition to work skills, the students are improving their self-confidence, self-determination, soft work skills, problem solving skills, relational skills, and communication skills.

I’m happy to report that the program is working. Graduates are securing jobs with a competitive salary and benefits. We are doing exactly what we set out to do. But the thing that I enjoy the most is getting to know the students and watching them grow in skills and independence.

Zach, the young man from the story I mentioned above, told me this week that what he loves the most about being at EGTI is getting to enjoy the college environment and experience what going to college is like.   He has been taking classes at a local community college, but now he has access to a full college campus.

Leslie was one of our first students. About half way through the program she called her mother and told her to pack up her things because she wasn’t coming home. She learned that she was a “city girl” and she was moving to Indianapolis. She picked Indy in part because of her love of horror movies and Indianapolis hosts an annual horror film convention. She had a choice!

Aaron was working two jobs and still didn’t make enough money to be independent. He recently completed a program in Nutritional Services and is how working at Parkview Hospital full time with benefits. Because of his tremendous work ethic, he had hospitals fighting to hire him!

Larry, a dietetics graduate is working in the cafeteria of an elementary school. His mother told me at graduation that the first few weeks of the program she expected a call every day asking her to come and pick him up because nothing had ever worked before. She never got that call.

So far 22 students have completed the program and 17 are currently enrolled. We’ve had three graduation ceremonies and I haven’t been able to get through any of them without crying.

I can’t help but think of all of the friendships I missed out on because society wasn’t as accepting when I was growing up. I wish I could have gotten to know the Heidis and Jimmys and Sarahs that grew up in my hometown.

So yes, I’m glad I’m old. I’m glad I understand just how important the work of The Arc is and where we would be without all of the incredible chapters of The Arc across this county.

If you’d like to get to know the amazing students attending EGTI, please visit our website at www.erskinegreeninstitute.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @ErskineGreen

Zach’s Big Move Out: An Update on the Morris Family

zachLast year, The Arc published a blog by Ray Morris, founder of Dads 4 Special Kids and father to Zach and Tyler. The piece highlighted the enormous impact Zach, who has intellectual and developmental disabilities, has made on Ray and the Morris home. The Arc’s readers will be happy to learn that Zach is transitioning through another stage all young adults face: venturing out of their family home, and into the wider world.

Zach’s transition out of the family home began while he was participating in a group at his adult day program. During this time, he met John and Lisa, a couple that has dedicated their lives to caring for adults with disabilities and have been certified to run an Adult Developmental Home (ADH). John and Lisa offered Zach a place to live at their ADH. After many discussions, Zach and his family worked with John and Lisa to make his move and path toward adulthood smoother for everyone.

Like many young adults who have just moved out on their own, Zach is busy soaking up his surroundings and his “personality has flourished” according to his dad. Some of Zach’s new-found hobbies include attending Professional Arena Football games and exploring the Phoenix Home & Garden Show. Zach’s parents and brother, Tyler, are thrilled that Zach is becoming more independent and discovering a new chapter in his life.

The entire Morris family has been changed by Zach’s move out of the family home. Zach’s younger brother, Tyler, recently celebrated his wedding in France. This was a particularly special occasion, for it was also the first family vacation for the Morris’ in over a decade. Ray and Kelly are also enjoying everyday pleasures such as having their house all to themselves and watching their favorite T.V. show without any distractions. Yet, Ray is quick to admit Zach’s absence also highlights “how [their] lives were structured around [his] care” for 27 years. Realizing that they are no longer their son’s primary caregivers is “bittersweet.”

Like any parents, Ray and Kelly have navigated this experience with some anxiety and fear. Ray sometimes wonders if encouraging Zach to pursue his own life at the ADH home was the best decision. However, Ray remembers “It’s allowing and trusting that the decision to transition Zach to an ADH home will provide him a more fulfilled, independent life.” Kelly shares Ray’s concerns and has admitted that the “instinct to protect and hold on to him [has] battled with the reality of what was best for Zach.” All the worry is replaced with reassurance and peace when Ray and Kelly see Zach “laughing and having fun” with his new group of friends and care providers.

With Zach now settled into a routine, embracing all of the changes has become a bit easier. These days the Morris’ are looking toward the future, and The Arc wishes them the best!

What it is really like to be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as an adult

By Amy Goodman, Co-Director of the Autism NOW Center, at The Arc of the United States

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman

In the recent past, Jerry Seinfeld had mentioned that he might be on the autism spectrum and then he had to backtrack and say he wasn’t on the spectrum. Because of a play he saw that was about autism, he thought he had some connection to it. That is all fine and dandy, but what about individuals who have been diagnosed with it as an adult and live with it every day. I just wanted to say that autism, ASD, or Asperger’s is nothing to be taken lightly. It is a developmental disability that affects how one thinks and it is the reactions that one has to the environment around them.

To me what it means to be diagnosed as an adult is this: It meant I finally found what I had been searching for, for more than 30 years. It meant closure of something looming over me. It meant satisfaction in me and my life in general. It was a relief to put a name to my idiosyncrasies and it gave me understanding and wisdom.

I was able to take responsibility for my life, make new plans on what I wanted to do with myself and I was able to put the pieces together and step through the next hurdle in my life. It gave me freedom to explore new opportunities and to see myself for who I am. I had a new found confidence and I realized I’m not different, that I do have a purpose and it also allowed me follow my dreams and go in a totally new direction.

It opened my eyes and washed away all my guilt that I had about myself and my abilities; therefore I was able to move forward with my new life. It gave me a whole new understanding of myself. The understanding was this that I am who I am and I am not bad, diseased, or broken. I have a name for all my challenges but that it is not a label, it is not bad, it just is. It is part of who I am and it will always be with me, but in the end does it really matter that I am on the spectrum? No, it does not. I am a human first and I have a name, Amy, autism or Asperger’s does not define me. So, I stopped obsessing over it, embraced it for what it is and I used my characteristics to help me to identify my next steps.

I took those next steps and I found that I am lovable, capable, and that I can do better than what others thought I was capable of doing. In fact, I have expanded my horizons and have even impressed myself with what I can do.

It means you know who you are, and it helped me to identify what I needed to do and by having this new found knowledge I was able to help others to see the light as well. Individuals with autism and Asperger’s are capable, bright, and able to achieve all of their dreams and then some if they just put their mind to it. Some individuals may need more help along the way than others, but don’t ever let anyone tell you “you can’t” because the reality is you can.

Dream big, live life to the fullest, and be happy. Do what you are meant to do. Being diagnosed as an adult gave me inspiration to do something, that something was go to graduate school and get my Master’s in Special Education with a minor in autism, so do something and make something of yourself. It can be done, if you have hope, happiness, and faith and you will succeed. Don’t give up, always remember to smile and remember this: No is not the answer. Yes is always the answer and what was the question? Oh I guess I forgot oh well it doesn’t matter because the answer will always be what you want it to be. That is yes, I can Yes, I will and Yes, I did. I conquered it and now that is all I have to say.

It Takes a Team

By Bernard A. Krooks, Past President, Special Needs Alliance

Dignity, security and personal fulfillment are essential to the quality of life that all individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve. But they face a tangled social, political and legal landscape, and it often requires the coordinated efforts of relatives, friends and special needs professionals to help them map their way.

Family members, of course, play a central role, offering emotional support and encouragement, planning for long-term financial security and frequently acting as primary caregivers. For some, they’re an individual’s most effective advocates, reinforcing their point of view with intimate understanding of a loved one’s needs.

Yet all too often, dreams face constraints.  Landmark legislation has recognized the civil rights of individuals with disabilities, and great strides have been made regarding social inclusion. But these hard-won victories are incomplete, and budget debates at all levels of government threaten even the programs already in place. Self-advocates, families and their supporters –advocacy organizations such as The Arc, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, the Special Needs Alliance and many others–must continue their unstinting demand that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as others to lead self-directed, satisfying lives.

Then there are the special ed teachers, speech therapists, psychologists, career counselors and many other service providers who assist those with disabilities on a daily basis to realize their potential. These committed professionals challenge, guide and applaud those they serve in order to build the skills needed for self-reliance. They help provide a foundation for the aspirations of individuals and their families.

As a child with disabilities matures, families must often balance concern for their safety and well-being with a desire to encourage their independence. In most states, individuals are considered legal adults at 18, with full responsibility for their own financial, legal and healthcare choices. Special needs attorneys are sensitive to these deeply personal matters and can guide parents in their deliberations concerning various forms of guardianship, power of attorney and health care proxy, as necessary, and in ways to optimize self-direction.

Then there are financial considerations. The specialized care required by some individuals with developmental disabilities is costly. While many expenses are covered by public programs, there are gaps, and qualifying is usually means-based.  Families, financial advisors and special needs attorneys should begin partnering early to evaluate an individual’s long-term needs, eligibility for benefits, the amount of money necessary to make up the difference between what is covered and what is not, and how to protect those funds while receiving government assistance.

Self-advocates are increasingly shaping their own destinies. It takes a team to assist them with the tools to succeed.

The Special Needs Alliance (SNA), a national non-profit comprised of attorneys who assist individuals with special needs, their families and the professionals who serve them, has formed a strategic partnership with The Arc.  The relationship is intended to facilitate collaboration at the local, state and national level on issues such as providing educational resources to families, building public awareness, and advocating for legislative and regulatory change. 

On His Own Terms

Ricardo ThorntonRicardo Thornton always had big hopes and dreams. But as is too often the case with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), they seemed almost impossible to achieve. Fourteen years of Ricardo’s childhood was spent in the confines of Forest Haven in Laurel, Maryland. Forest Haven (closed in 1991) was the District of Columbia’s public institution for children and adults with a variety of mental, intellectual, and developmental disabilities that had a dark history of abuse of residents and below standard conditions. His sister and brother were also residents and, sadly, his sister died there, never experiencing a full life outside of the institution.

Ricardo was determined that his life would have a different outcome, but leaving the institution was just the beginning of his struggle. Ricardo took his first step by landing a job at the Martin Luther King Library, where he has worked for more than 35 years. Donna, a friend and fellow former resident of Forest Haven, got a job nearby at Walter Reed Medical Center. Donna soon got her own apartment and Ricardo’s weekly visits to her blossomed into romance.

For most, this would not be extraordinary, but at that time people with I/DD were rarely encouraged to live independently and certainly not to get married. Unlike The Arc, most developmental disabilities agencies, caregivers and even family members did not believe that people with I/DD could be employed, let alone live independently. Fewer still believed that they could have mature, intimate relationships.

Ricardo & Donna's weddingRicardo and Donna forged the way, but the journey wasn’t easy. While other couples only need to fill out basic information for a marriage license, Ricardo and Donna were told that it was illegal for people with I/DD to get married in D.C.! With support from The Arc of D.C. and other disability rights organizations, and through the couple’s own sheer determination, Ricardo and Donna eventually realized their dream of being together.

Life progressed, and like many newlyweds they wrestled with the question of parenthood, something their friends and medical personnel advised against. But, eventually they had a baby boy, who is now a successful 25-year-old with a wife and daughter of his own.

Now, Ricardo is one of The Arc’s most well-known self-advocates – living life on his own terms and inspiring others with I/DD. He shares his life story with audiences across the country, pointing out that making his hopes and dreams a reality required determination and the right amount of help, guidance and resources. His inspirational story has even been made into a movie called Profoundly Normal.

“I’ve seen people with severe disabilities who have grown and accomplished great things given the right support,” he testified before the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).

The Arc is proud to have been able to help Ricardo achieve his goals for more than 30 years. The Arc supports individuals with I/DD in communities nationwide through a national network of chapters. In many cases, what people like Ricardo hope and dream for is what we often take for granted – from securing a job and getting married to having a child and living in the community of their choice on their own terms. We continue to advocate on behalf of the thousands of people with I/DD who are still living in state run institutions. With the tireless efforts of The Arc of Alabama, Alabama became the first state in the southeast to no longer operate large public institutions, and in December 2014, Illinois will have closed 4 out of the 5 of its state run institutions.

Your support allows The Arc to continue its important work.  You can help people like Ricardo and Donna live life on their own terms with your donation today.

Catching Up with Micah Feldman, Intern and Young Advocate

Micah FeldmanMicah Feldman is a young man “going places.”  Just to give you a sense of how involved Micah is with fulfilling his goals of being an independent young man, taking advantage of every opportunity in his path – it took us at The Arc several weeks to coordinate a time to talk to prepare this blog post. Between Micah’s commitments as an intern at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), speaking engagements at various conferences, and personal events (like his sister’s recent graduation weekend), Micah is not sitting still this summer!

Tell us about how you landed your internship at HHS this summer.

I heard about the AAPD internship program from my mom and thought it sounded like a good experience.  I applied once before, but wasn’t picked.  So I tried again and this summer I’m one of 30 or so people interning in Washington.  I wanted to work at HHS because I met Sharon Lewis at a conference and we became friends.

What is a typical day like at HHS?

Well, every day is different.   But I have spent time doing research on guardianship and voting rights.  I learn about the health care law.  I now know that getting a physical regularly is covered.  I’ve also supported the CRPD (U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities).  It needs to get passed.

Why is the CRPD important to you?

It will help people travel more outside the country and have a voice at the table.  It’s important for us to support it.

Let’s talk about the good and the bad of your summer in Washington experience.

The best part was going to the ADA celebration at the White House. Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor, spoke.  He’s done a lot for people with disabilities.  President Obama was not there because he’s a busy guy.

The worst part is by the end of the day, I’m tired of sitting in front of a computer screen.

What else have you been doing, besides working, here in Washington?

I went to a Nationals baseball game, which was a lot of fun.  I saw the FDR Memorial. And soon I’m going to the Newseum with AAPD.

What’s next for you?

I will go home to Michigan for a few days of rest.  Then I go back to Syracuse University, where I’m getting my certificate in disability studies.  I’m a teaching assistant too.  And I will continue to look for speaking opportunities.

This summer, I learned a lot and met lots of people.  Maybe in the future, I will work here.

We at The Arc wouldn’t be surprised to see Micah again in Washington, working full time or as a self-advocate for important issues like the CRPD.  Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Micah!

The Arc in Nevada’s Self-Advocacy Coordinator Honored for her Impact on Disability Movement

Santa Perez

Santa Perez accepts her award.

Yesterday, The Arc in Nevada’s Santa Perez was presented with The National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities’ (NACDD) Champions of Equal Opportunity (CEO) Award for 2013. Delaware Governor Jack Markell is NACDD’s other CEO Award recipient this year for his work as the Chair of the National Governors Association where he is promoting employment for people with disabilities nationwide.

Perez joined The Arc in Nevada as Self-Advocacy Coordinator in 2012.  In her role, she focuses on ensuring self-advocates, or people with disabilities who advocate on their own behalf for their rights, in Nevada have the information and access they need to become engaged in advocacy activities through The Arc in Nevada’s “Growing a Grassroots Movement” project.

Originally from Southern California, Perez earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology at California State University, Northridge. She owns her own home and lives with her son Noah and companion Timothy Brown in Las Vegas, Nevada.  A true champion of rights for Nevada’s citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), she leads various trainings and workshops and serves as a client advocate. In addition to her position with The Arc in Nevada, Perez currently serves as the Statewide President of People First of Nevada.

“I am so honored to be receiving this award along with Governor Jack Markell. I don’t do what I do for recognition like this – I do it because I love to empower self-advocates. This award inspires me to work harder than ever to help others ensure that their voices are heard in Nevada and across the country,” said Perez.

The Arc in Nevada’s “Growing a Grassroots Advocacy Movement” program is funded by the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. Through this program, The Arc of the United States is working to develop long-term capacity for advocates to have input and impact on issues of importance to people with I/DD and their families.   This project started in 2011, and marks the first time The Arc has had a statewide presence in Nevada since the mid-nineties.

Highlighting the Talent of Self-Advocates in Evansville, Indiana

By Denise Seibert, Director of Development
Evansville Arc

Last month, Evansville Arc was proud to partner with The Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana to host our first ever art show in The Arts Council’s Bower-Suhrheinrich Foundation Gallery located in downtown Evansville, Indiana.  The show opened on May 10 and runs through June 12.  The show features fabric mosaics that have been completed by individuals served by our chapter, along with volunteers and staff of Evansville Arc.

The project began in 2009 as a one-time project to engage community volunteers with the clients served in our Adult Day Services program.  However, the project was such a success that we have continued work on the mosaics thanks to the help of local vendors, such as fabric stores and interior design professionals, who generously donate wall paper samples, fabric samples, scrap materials and other items.

I believe our President,  Deidra R. Conner, described the project best when she said “This project truly demonstrates that the love of art is universal and that everyone – regardless of physical or cognitive abilities – has talents or gifts that should be shared with others.”

Description of pieces

Freedom of Religion“Freedom of Religion.”

This mosaic represents the right for all people to practice their religion or beliefs. Seclusion of individuals with disabilities in the past and societal attitudes impeded their ability to express and practice their religion or beliefs. Many individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities indicate that being able to participate in worship services of their choosing greatly enhances their lives.

Beverly attended church with her sister before her sister passed away. With supports, Beverly is now able to attend religious services. ““I’m happy to go to church.  I haven’t been since my sister died.  I really miss the music & want to sing.” – Beverly W.


Freedom of Expression“Freedom of Expression.”

This mosaic represents the right to speak openly and fully without fear of undue criticism or punishment. Too often, persons with disabilities have not been given the opportunity to speak for themselves. Due to social and cultural attitudes, their opinions were not always given the same value as those without disabilities and their efforts to speak up were stifled. Individuals with disabilities have much to say and are encouraged to speak up about issues that impact their lives and their community.

“I am able to speak my mind and follow what’s in my heart”- Matt B


Right to Access“Right to Access”

This mosaic represents the right of freedom of movement in the community. Freedom of movement is two-fold: being allowed to be a part of one’s community and being able to access it. In the past, persons with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities were encouraged to be placed in institutions and hidden from the rest of society. They were not able to attend public schools and take part in the daily activities such as employment, shopping, using recreational facilities, etc.  Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even if they were allowed to participate, many individuals with disabilities were limited due to physical or other barriers. Today we are seeing more and more individuals with disabilities contributing to their communities as employees, volunteers and taxpayers as they are given opportunities and reasonable accommodations.

“The best thing about getting my job is that I’m earning my own money and I now have responsibilities. Having responsibilities is the important thing, like showing up for work and being on time.” – Nathan B.