Written by Sylvia Fuerstenberg, former executive director, The Arc of King County
I was talking to my daughter this morning on the way to work about how much I love the annual legislative forum. Have I said that before? I can’t seem to say it enough! Sitting in traffic I was trying to recreate for her the joy and inspiration that I get each year from the stories that are told. Where else, and in what other community, do people come together in the hundreds (450 – 600), year after year to share dreams and daily struggles with our elected officials? Year after year we show up to listen, laugh and cry together as we share our truths, the joy and the heartache, with legislators who, in turn, listen, learn, and walk away with more understanding and respect for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their caregiving families. They walk away with a mission to make lives better for people with I/DD and their families. Many legislators consider this a required event in our county, and hold up the years they have attended as a badge of honor. We do too – I have attended 22 of them!!
Year after year the elected officials act on what they have learned. We work together to garner bipartisan support, sharing our stories and never forgetting to be thankful for what we have achieved. Here are just a few of the many changes that have been made by this community in just the last 40 years:
1972 – Education for all passed the legislature. Student with disabilities now had full rights to a public education;
1989 – The first King County Legislative Forum for developmental disabilities is held!;
1990 – Americans with Disabilities Act is signed into law;
1991 – Employment services for high school transition graduates with disabilities are funded for the first time;
1994 – Interlake Residential Habilitation Center, a state institution for people with I/DD is closed (one down – four to go!);
1999 – The DD endowment trust is established and the US Supreme Court issues the Olmstead v. L.C decision reaffirming the rights of persons with disabilities to receive care in the community;
2004 – Legislation passed the respectful language bill to remove the “R” word from state statute;
2007 – Individual and Family Support Program Act that ensures budget for respite and treatment for adults with I/DD living with their families;
2010/11 – Access to state institutions is limited for people older than 21 and no more children will be institutionalized in WA. Frances Haddon Morgan Center an institution for people with autism closed (the second institution to close);
2013 – Mandatory parent notification of restraint and seclusion in schools and the endangered person alert (no need for the authorities to wait 24 hours before looking for a person with I/DD who is missing).
I feel so lucky to be a part of this community and feel privileged to witness the testimonials that year after year individuals with I/DD and their families come forward to tell. There is much more to do to assure full inclusion for people with I/DD and their families. Families, people with I/DD, teachers, social workers, committed boards and staff – We can do this together!