The following chapters collaborated together with The Arc of Massachusetts to host a forum with Congressman Joseph Kennendy III: The Arc of Bristol County, The Arc of South Norfolk and Center for Hope Foundation. Other speakers included DDS Commissioner Elin Howe, Leo Sarkissian of The Arc, and three family members who shared their stories. Click here to read more from The Sun Chronicle.
“I’m honored to be your friend and partner – to be a voice for your efforts down in Washington and here in Massachusetts, whenever and wherever you need me.”
To read the full transcript of Kennedy’s speech, please click below.
The Arc of Massachusetts Disability Summit
October 21, 2014
Thank you Michael for that kind introduction, and for your fierce advocacy for those with developmental or intellectual disabilities. Your work at Arc is humbling and it is an honor to join you today.
To everyone here today, thank you for your unwavering commitment to Arc and its mission of helping our family, friends and neighbors with disabilities.
It has been a whirlwind first term in Congress, and we have found ourselves rapidly immersed in battles that could not have higher stakes.
One of the very first things I’ve come to realize about those battles is that government is nothing without its community partners.
That real reform is grounded not in the marble halls of Washington but in the streets of our cities and towns – where neighbors and friends feel suffering in their midst and come together around an issue where they are personally, inextricably invested in the outcome.
It was something I learned from my uncle, Senator Kennedy. He taught me that an elected official is only as good as the friends he has back home. Because it is those people who will tell it to you straight – even when it’s not what you want to hear.
They understand the problems our communities face, the issues our constituents care about and, most importantly, the way to fix what’s broken.
That is a long way of saying – down in Washington, we need you. I need you. Your advocacy, your insight and your experience.
The work done by Arc and its partners is particularly near and dear to my heart. From Best Buddies to the Special Olympics, I was raised in a family with a deeply personal connection to helping those with disabilities.
When my Aunt Eunice saw the injustices her sister, my Aunt Rosemary, faced as someone with intellectual disabilities, she started “Camp Shriver” in their backyard – dead-set on showing her dear sister that life should never be defined by other people’s expectations.
Aunt Eunice dedicated her life to that cause; to proving that opportunity is not predicated on who or what you are born to, but on hard work and heart.
On the day she kicked off the first ever Special Olympics Summer Games, on a hot July day in Chicago in 1968, Aunt Eunice was met with skepticism and disbelief.
Nearly five decades later, over 7,000 athletes from 170 countries took part in the most recent 2011 Games.
Despite the naysayers she faced along the way, Aunt Eunice carried with her an unflappable belief that every single one of us is capable of surpassing the accepted limitations of the human experience.
As she put it: “All human beings are created equal in the sense that each has the capacity and a hunger for moral excellence, for courage, for friendship and for love. Whatever the speed of our feet or the power of our arms, each of us is capable of these highest virtues. Intelligence does not limit love, nor does wealth produce friendship.”
My aunt Eunice could have been speaking about the mission of the Arc of Massachusetts.
Since the 1950’s, you have been the first to call attention to the injustices and inequalities in the way children with disabilities were treated. You have seen the pain and suffering of kids who were placed at schools with little support or treatment. And, just as importantly, you saw the toll it took on their families when they weren’t allowed to visit their sons and daughters or brothers and sisters.
But instead of waiting for change to happen, you filled the void in our broken system and went to the State House to demand action. Your calls changed the way our Commonwealth – and eventually – our country approached intellectual and development disabilities for children.
And as those children grew into young adults, you ensured they could access the support, guidance and friendship to thrive through independence. Once again, it was Arc’s parents and volunteers who arrived at the State House, this time in Don’t Turn Twenty-Two badges, telling their elected officials what they needed to hear at the moment it mattered most.
Thanks to Arc, the roots of the change we have seen across our country can be traced to the streets and communities of Massachusetts.
From the Special Education Law in 1974 to the Turning 22 Law in the 80’s and the numerous lawsuits filed on behalf of those with disabilities and their families, the first steps on the march to equality for those with disabilities have been taken in our Commonwealth.
And that model continues today as this past summer the Massachusetts State Legislature sent a bill to Governor Patrick that would create tax-free saving accounts for people with disabilities.
That same week in Washington, the House Ways and Means Committee followed their lead by approving the ABLE Act, which should open the door to a vote before the end of our term. With almost every single member of the House and Senate cosponsoring the legislation, I believe that we can finally pass the bill and allow many of those with disabilities to save and plan for their own future.
Then, with your guidance and advocacy, we can continue working to fill the remaining gaps in our system. We can extend the benefits of the ABLE Act to those who acquire disabilities after they turn 25. We can ensure that our friends, neighbors and family members will never have to hear the words “you can’t” due to a disability.
What I will leave you with today is this: the work you do is more essential today than ever before.
Thanks in large part to many of the people here today, we have made enormous strides when it comes to supporting those with disabilities. Our eyes have grown sharper, our safety net stronger, and our advocacy fiercer.
But the reality is that we still have our work cut out for us. That too many children and adults with disabilities end up permanently left behind by our system. We can do more and we can do better.
For over 60 strong and successful years, the Arc of Massachusetts and its supporters have worked to find those children, lift them up, and build brighter futures where they are needed most.
I’m honored to be your friend and partner – to be a voice for your efforts down in Washington and here in Massachusetts, whenever and wherever you need me. Thank you!