Yesterday Governor Patrick, Speaker DeLeo, and Senate President Murray were joined by legislators and scores of families and advocates as a ceremonial signing of three disability bills took place in Fenway Park. The bills greatly improved the lives of those with intellectual and developmental disabilities and each focused on an important arena – safety, choice or self-direction and access to services.
The bills were:
• Autism omnibus opens the door to persons with developmental disabilities who also have Autism, Prader-Willi syndrome and Smith Magenis syndrome to receive adults services through the Department of Developmental Services (DDS); a door opened to hundreds who did not have access. The bill also extends health services at MassHealth for critical therapies and communication devices in addition to three other sections that address the needs of the growing population with autism.
• National Background check focuses on safety, ensuring that those accepting jobs with persons served by DDS will be subject to a full criminal background check especially relevant since so many workers reside in neighboring states; only in the last session did a similar bill get approved for children in educational programs.
• The “Real Lives” bill places in statute, self-direction for those receiving funding from the state for their services. Too often, people have to move from the communities in which they live to get the assistance they need. This allows for flexibility and choice subject to procedures established by the DDS.
The passage of the bills reflects the positive, progressive leadership of our legislature and that of Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray (we’ll miss her). It further reflects the collaboration of more than 30 advocacy or other disability organizations to educate decision makers on the merits of these bills.
Perceptions of people with disabilities continue to evolve and improve. After all it was only in the 1970s that education for those with special needs became a law in the USA; before that time, communities could choose to provide education if they wanted to do so. In 1969, it was a crime in North Carolina to try to enroll a child with a disability if he/she had already been excluded.
Our goal – that persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights and respect for their dignity and privacy, as do people without disabilities. And on October 23, celebrated getting closer to that goal!
Here are a few pictures from the event: