Yesterday’s 37th Annual legislative reception moderated by Brian Leary, reverberated throughout the state house. The three leaders of state government, the Governor and heads of the respective branches of the legislature all honored our attendees with their participation. Governor Charlie Baker not only shared his commitment to disability services, but spent several minutes shaking hands and posing for pictures with many of the attendees. He listened attentively as one parent shared her concerns about the loss of family support services. The Governor commented on the wonderful opening by Mary Ann Ziegler who sang the national anthem at the start of the reception. Mary Ann’s mother, the late Martha Ziegler, was one of the early pioneers in disability advocacy and she would have been proud to hear her daughter at the State House.
Jim, Kathy and Rose Rurak shared their story and Rose’s return to living at home with them after some time at a community residence. They explained how it’s critical to “listen” even if there are no words – as in the case of their daughter. Even without words, family and friends can share their preferences. Jim, a former mayor of Haverhill, noted this is important whether a family member has a disability or not. Kathy shared how DDS and their local chapter of The Arc supported them to develop in-home services so that they could craft the right kind of support desired by their daughter Rose at home.
Julie Fitzpatrick, chair of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council which co-hosted the reception with The Arc and many co-sponsors, talked about “Promises to Keep”. She noted the support of the legislature in the passage of three significant bills last year: “Real Lives, National Background Check and the Autism Omnibus”. This year we are in the midst of implementation and bringing those promises to fruition.
Senator John Keenan and Representative Sean Garballey were honored as legislators of the year for their strong support of disability budget and legislation. Senate President Stan Rosenberg in recognizing Sen. Keenan reminded us of our role in the civic process. He also gave a nod to Executive Director Ed Porter of the United Arc, which is in his district. Ed will be retiring this summer from his position and he will be missed. Senator Keenan shared his appreciation of the award and continued commitment. By coincidence his artwork included the dormitory where he had lived for 3 years while at Harvard.
Speaker DeLeo in recognizing Sean Garballey noted how he continues to remind people that those with disabilities are only looking for an equal playing field and how he fought for that recognition during his legislative career. Rep. Garballey recognized one of his classmates with Down syndrome who attended the reception and noted how he is committed because of her, and others like her because they make a difference.
The event ended with a “Call to Action” from Leo Sarkissian of The Arc. Noting that it was the 50th anniversary of Selma and the connection between the civil rights battle and disability rights, he quoted from Langston Hughes, “But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe;”