I had the occasion to speak to a number of individuals about The Arc in the last week, following the death of Eunice Shriver. She certainly had a profound and long lasting impact on people with developmental disabilities all across the country. I am asked, “what’s next” for advancing the rights of people with disabilities in the community?” It is astonishing to think that when I started school (way back when) people with developmental disabilities were not a part of my school experience. They were in segregated classrooms or segregated schools. There was no place for them in public education. There were also no people of color in my school on the Gulf Coast of Florida.
My children grew up in schools where diversity is celebrated and people with developmental disabilities are included – not all the time, but also not isolated. As a result, a generation of young adults has enjoyed the many advantages a public education offers. They expect the right to live learn, work and play along side everyone else. Their disability is but a part of who they are, not the defining trait. (I think our Board member Eric Matthes said this in a meeting yesterday!)
So, what’s next? I think it is up to these well-educated, capable, articulate advocates with disabilities to tell us what’s next. They are leading the movement more and more. With our professional, familial and loving support, this younger generation will over time truly be included in all walks of life – without anyone blinking an eye. We have a long way to go, but we will do it in partnership with each other.