Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility 46th Annual Legislative Reception: Nearly 400 Advocates Come Together to Reaffirm Commitment to Those in Need - The Arc of Massachusetts Skip to main content

On Wednesday, March 6, nearly 400 advocates gathered at the Massachusetts State House to celebrate the 46th Annual Legislative Reception. Held by The Arc of Massachusetts (The Arc) and the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC), this year’s theme was “Reaffirming Our Commitment to Those in Need.”

This year’s theme focused on the continued need to advocate for those individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and autism who remain in the strongest need, with thousands going unserved or underserved for nearly four years now due to the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

As part of the program, The Arc and MDDC named their Legislators of the Year. The Arc’s Legislator of the Year award was given to Representative John Lawn, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. MDDC’S Legislator of the Year award was given to Senator Jo Comerford, Assistant Vice Chair of Senate Ways and Means. Representative Jim O’Day presented Representative Lawn with his award, and Senator Mike Barrett presented Senator Comerford with her award. Both Representative Lawn and Senator Comerford were presented with artworks created by self-advocates.

The event was co-emceed by WROR Radio host Lauren Beckham Falcone, who has a daughter with Down syndrome, and Amir Harper, a high school senior from Revere with autism who has been an active participant in The Arc’s Operation House Call program and was recently accepted into the Berklee College of Music.

Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Undersecretary Mary McGeown joined the event to present Governor Maura Healey’s proclamation of March 2024 as Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. The full proclamation of this can be found here. The proclamation included this excerpt, perfectly embodying the Legislative Reception’s theme: “This year, as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we look to the future. We imagine a future where all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities work, live and learn in community.”

Our keynote address was given by Heidi Robbins, advocate and mother to Ben, a 22-year-old with autism, an intellectual disability, and a seizure disorder. Heidi discussed the difficulty of finding programs and supports for her son, who turned 22 within this pandemic period. “We use this word advocate countless times. One definition is any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others. Pleading seems to be the word that resonates with my experience,” Heidi explained. “I know there are many families approaching this milestone or on waiting lists for services. Transition and adult services do not allow complacency. It requires nonstop action and continually repeating the individual’s needs that must be met. … Advocacy will continue for Ben to ensure his care includes life skills, safety, exercise, and leisure and community. And most important, that he is valued as a person and able to live his most meaningful life. Because isn’t that what we all want?”

The Arc’s Deputy Executive Director Maura Sullivan provided a resounding call to action for our community. “This community is indefatigable in spirit but I know there is exhaustion out there, and for many there is fear. When will this crisis be over?” Maura noted. “Our collective advocacy has already made an impact. Our action alert in December resulted in 1,800 letters to the governor pleading for a workforce investment in Chapter 257. And as you heard, she came through with 485 million in proposed funding for increased wages to bring works to a median of $20 per hour. This is a necessary start.” Maura then stressed the importance of continuous advocacy, and the need to follow up: “Are you all ready to talk to your elected officials? They need to hear from you. If they don’t get back to your calls or your e-mails, don’t get angry and give up. You to keep following up. Don’t take it personally: just keep going.”

Thank you to all members of the disability community who came out to join us in this important annual advocacy day. As Senator Comerford noted, “That’s the power of legislative advocacy days like this. My colleagues get to see what you need, how you need it, what we should do, and then we join with great administration officials and try to make the Commonwealth a place where everyone can thrive.” Representative Lawn likewise noted, “There are so many issues that we don’t think of, but unless you bring them to us, we may not. That’s why we need each and every one of you to come to us with the issues that are important and that we can make a difference on together.”

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