A few of years ago I gave a speech in front of Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council as I was one of the nominees for Chair. Well, through the years I’ve learned that my speeches/talks are far more effective if I jot down some points that I want to cover. Also this method ensures that the speech has a general theme and not too disjointed. Finally it gives me the freedom to speak with passion from my heart without reading or memorizing exact words on the paper. The only problem with this is reconstructing the exact speech for publication. From my notes, memory, and embellishments on the actual speech here and there, I will write my vision for the future of DD Council.
Shortly after I was seated on council I knew it was something more for me than an appointment – it was a calling, a vocation or whatever personal term one would use to fit the definition of; “This is what I was destined to do at this moment in time”. It has been an honor to serve with others on this council.
I have a forward thinking plan that will truly bring people with disabilities into equality. Quite simply put (but not so simple to do) is: 1) Change language. Language is not only important as to how society sees persons with disabilities, particularly those of us with Developmental Disabilities (DD), but more importantly, the language we use to describe our particular disability also says how we see ourselves. 2) Increase the expectations of people with disabilities and this will increase our opportunity.
My Vision for Council is to put flesh on the skeleton. The skeleton is the Laws we have such as the ADA, IDEA, Fair Housing Act, The Olmstead decision, etc. Are these perfect? No, but they are there as tools to be used when necessary. It’s time to move from “being included” to “full equality” – our rightful place in society. What does that mean or look like to be fully equal? It means accommodations become a means of respect rather than something that has to be done because the law requires it. When I, as a wheelchair user, wheel into a restaurant, they simply pull away a chair because that’s who I am. When a child with DD enters school, typical classes already assimilate to various learning styles, and have adaptive equipment in them, so it’s just a natural part of the environment. Single family homes are built knowing some of the community use wheelchairs; they buy and rent homes as well as visit friends and family. Building homes that have visitability features is no more of a hassle than ensuring every house has electricity.
Council has the experience of people with disabilities, parents, society, and professionals, knowledge and resources to bring about these systems changes. If we keep our eyes on a common goal of full equality, worked together and willing to compromise, we not only CAN do it, we WILL do it!
My qualifications to lead this community into change for people with disabilities are my professional experiences but more importantly (I think) is my personal experience in bringing about change. I could go through my laundry list of professional accomplishments that solidifies that I’m well qualified for the position, but I believe one has to have created change throughout one’s life, in order to lead members to create systems change. Since I was young, even before I knew the meaning of “rebel for change” I just was!
One example of change was at the tender and frustrated age of 17, my parents decided that me and my siblings were going to go to CCD classes on Saturday at our church. It just so happened that I was “lucky” enough that our church held the special ed classes for the diocese. I was not keen on this at all so my parents and teachers conned me into believing that I would be working with the non-disabled teenagers in teaching the program. Well, that’s just not the way it went. By the second week I thought to myself; “you know they forced you into a disabled school when you were too young to raise hell about it, are you just gonna let it happen again”? (I must have expressed my dissatisfaction to my mom, but she was such a conformist). Anyway, I made up my mind that I was NOT going in that class! My parents could drop me off, but I was not going in THAT class. My sister was 20 months younger and I got her to sit outside the classroom with me. They called my mom and asked why I wouldn’t go to class and she must have told them. From then on, I was in my sister’s confirmation class with 40 non-disabled teenagers.
How to create change, changes with age, experience and who one knows. In other words, I no longer have to resort to such measures to affect change. My knowledge, ability to articulate reasonable solutions to people who just don’t know to understand, along with understanding all sides and working as a team to get things accomplished, makes me a respected leader.
In the next five years as Chair of Council I would like to accomplish the following:
- I want to bring to fruition the 5 year plan we just started
- I want to see more people with DD get into government jobs and on boards and commission that have little to do with DD.
- We listen a lot as council, but I would like to listen even more to those who are really on the trenches
- I want to bring in national speakers such as: Kathie Snow, Derrick Dufresne, and Dale DiLeo so council can get a vision of what full equality looks like, feels like and smells like
To bring the vision and goals into existence, we need to keep working closely with our DD Act partners as well as other DD advocacy groups. I see council staff and their partners together at many meetings throughout the community, so I know they work well together and are on the same page. What I would like to see in the future is for staff, partners and groups to look towards true equality rather than just inclusion because when one has equality they are included.