By Scott Lentine
As a person with autism, I believe I have many obligations to engage in civic activities and actions on behalf of individuals with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Far too often, many people with disabilities are often excluded from civic opportunities, such as voting and serving in communal organizations, in this country due to outdated stereotypes that people still view citizens with disabilities as being feeble minded and being a burden on the taxpayers. Through engaging in civic duties with people in the community, people with disabilities can help persuade mainstream society to pass laws to help get more resources for people with I/DD and physical activities, as well as include them in volunteer organizations and obtain well-paying job opportunities.
Participating in the arts, such as music, poetry, dancing, and other artistic endeavors can also enable society to help lessen the negative stereotypes that people often have of people with disabilities. Over the past five years, I have written poetry about autism and other topics to help demonstrate to readers my thoughts and feelings of being on the autism spectrum. Through my blog and poetry, I have gradually developed new audiences who have come to appreciate my thoughts on autism and how to help work with people with disabilities. There should also be more adaptive music, poetry, acting and additional arts programs in schools for people with I/DD and physical disabilities with the assistant of methods that would help accommodate the abilities of these students.
Boosting employment programs can further help people with disabilities participate in the community. Many people with physical or intellectual disabilities are underemployed in working occupations across America. Job coaches and employers should initiative innovative job training programs which employees with disabilities obtain a successful part-time or full-time job. With the help of my job coach, I have been able to build upon my resume to find meaningful employment during the last five years. Having a successful job training program can help individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities expand friendships beyond their immediate resources.
Working with legislators and public policy officials is another important step into boosting civic engagement for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a public policy intern at The Arc of Massachusetts in Waltham, I try to persuade state legislators in the Commonwealth to pass bills that would be aimed at the improving the lives of people with I/DD. These bills would help bring about reforms to residential services, healthcare access, employment services, and educational opportunities for people with I/DD. In 2014, I was very thrilled to see The Autism Omnibus Bill (Chapter 266 of 2014) signed into law by then-Governor Deval Patrick. Through the passage of the law, people with autism would get insurance coverage by MassHealth and would help teachers in the state work closely with students with autism in term of the most effective educational services.