DD Awareness Day
Thank you all for coming, I, as well as council, are overjoyed at your presence at this event. Also I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to so many of you self advocates, your families, department directors, legislators, and guests.
Four years ago when I was appointed to DD Council I would have never thought I’d have the honor and responsibility to chair the council. Now that doesn’t mean I didn’t dream, plan, or look for that opportunity, I just thought in this day and age it couldn’t happen that an unknown woman with severe DD, and with a speech impairment would chair one of the largest state government councils.
Why did I think this? I certainly knew I was qualified and capable, but what I didn’t have is a genuine career history. I have worked at low level jobs like many of you, and I never had a fair opportunity to show my true strengths. So, I thought; “It would be a rare governor indeed, who would appoint someone to lead a State Council who looks and speaks like I do, and who does not even have a real job”. But I was appointed by the Governor and promised not to let him, council, nor all of you down.
Besides, another issue against me is I’ve been known to have the weakness of being direct, in other words I say it as I see it – and I guess that’s not popular in low-level jobs, even if what is said happens to be an accurate assessment or true statement.
But I had a dream, and dreams look beyond what is possible.
Today I want to talk with you about looking beyond where we are right now, and how we can get there. The way we see beyond our current reality is by hoping and dreaming then coming together, as we are today, to express these common hopes and dreams, which creates a “vision” that each of us, by ourselves, cannot imagine. The way we fulfill that common vision is by advocacy – speaking up for what we need to give us equal opportunities in life. My fellow council member Jacob King will go over the details of the talking points, but I want to paint the big picture.
Never stop hoping and dreaming about the life you want. No matter how unrealistic others say your dream is, never let go of it! Even if it never comes true, you own it, and don’t let anyone take it away from you!
Your dream is part of a bigger picture. We have to dream because people with disabilities don’t have the same rights as people without disabilities, to live where they want, make a decent income and get married if we choose. Oh sure we have these rights on paper, but we who have disabilities, and those who love us, know this is often not how it shakes out! I want everyone here to know you have the right to dream and to make these dreams come true. Like Susan Boyle, an intellectually disabled woman on “Britain’s Got Talent” who sang perfectly I Dreamed the Dream! I want to hear it from you, I HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE! Say it; I HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE MY DREAMS COME TRUE!
Even simple dreams are just an illusion to us, like having control over going to bed when we want, or doing chores at a time we decide to do them, not when we are ordered to as if we were children, or living with whom we choose. It’s remarkable how the system makes it sound as if we had a choice, when the truth is we are usually persuaded into living with 3 or more strangers!
Even dreams like working at Wal-Mart, rather than working for pennies an hour is not plausible right now! That’s humiliating for people with disabilities. Many of us are encouraged by our caregivers to get up each morning and take public transportation to jobs that pay pennies an hour. We need the real right to meaningful jobs with meaningful wages. And, if we are really not capable of holding a meaningful job, then we need the right to choose whether to stay home, go to the gym, the zoo, the recreation center, the park, or any other place of our choosing. To perform a job for someone else is at least worth minimum wage! I want everyone here to say I AM WORTH AT LEAST A MINIMUM WAGE JOB! Say it! I AM WORTH AT LEAST A MINIMUM WAGE JOB!
Advocacy is the way we get others to buy into and see our dreams as we do. In my thinking there are three levels of Advocacy.
First there is Self-Advocacy where one makes his personal dreams needs and desire known to someone who has the authority or power to help make this a reality for that individual. In other words, this person has the skill, knowledge and resources to get what they want. An example of this would be a person wanting a minimum wage job at a pet store. He goes to RSC and says, “I have always dreamed of grooming animals. I know I can do this because I have groomed my pets. With some training I believe I can make a career of this. Help me make this happen”. Six months later he’s working full-time at a pet store making $11 an hour.
Then there is Individual Advocacy. This is where you are advocating for a friend or someone who is having trouble getting their dreams or needs met. An example would be a friend tells you that he tried to get a job in the community. You listen to his story and see he did and said all the correct things, so you offer to advocate with him to get him the opportunity he desires.
Finally there is Systems Advocacy. This is when it is discovered that many people are going through the same struggle on an individual basis to achieve the same desired outcome. Realizing this they decide, “This is ridiculous, the vast majority of us are having to fight the same fight. So let’s band together and make a change in the system so the next people can get the same desired dream easier”! An example of systems advocacy would be the Employment First Initiative where people with disabilities will be presumed capable of community employment. It’s much easier to find and hold a job when a person is presumed capable of work, than being presumed incapable and trying to get the opportunities to prove otherwise!
Now go share that dream with your legislators and with others.