On March 4, 2020, nearly 500 self-advocates, family members, professionals, legislators, and staff members gathered at the Massachusetts State House for the 42nd Annual Legislative Reception, Breaking Through Bias: Advancing Opportunities, Raising Expectations. Organized by The Arc of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC), this year represented record turnout for the event as we all came together to recognize our Legislators of the Year: Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-3rd Suffolk), Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Patrick O’Connor (R-Weymouth).
Senator Patrick O’Connor received the MDDC Legislator of the Year award from Senate President Karen Spilka. Senate President Spilka reflected on her own passionate connection to the disability community, which comes as a result of her sister Susie, who had Down syndrome and for whom she served as guardian. “She gave me more than I ever gave her, and she helped ground me and give me focus,” Senate President Spilka affirmed, before highlighting the importance of the work of organizations and agencies like The Arc and MDDC.
Upon accepting his award, Senator O’Connor highlighted the work undertaken by families and advocates toward the development and passage of the abuse registry bill known as Nicky’s Law and Dana’s Law. He reflected on his own personal connections to the disability world, which he receives via many of his office staff who have their own personal relationships to the I/DD community. Senator O’Connor also used his acceptance speech to highlight some of the important advancements that still need to be made for individuals with disabilities: “We need to do more when it comes to access for inclusionary employment, better pay for the caring and loving individuals working in this field, more protections for the most vulnerable among us, and a workable plan for permanent adult disabled housing in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Representative Aaron Michlewitz received The Arc’s Legislator of the Year award from Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. Speaker DeLeo discussed his own expansive history of working with the disability community, including working to remove the r-word from Massachusetts legislation, the development of the ABLE program and insurance coverage of autism spectrum disorder, and Nicky’s Law. “By helping and making the lives better for many of the folks here in this room, that’s where I get my greatest satisfaction,” Speaker DeLeo said.
As he accepted his award, Representative Michlewitz discussed the importance of advocacy and the everyday work put in by organizations such as The Arc of Massachusetts. He highlighted the persistence and leadership of The Arc’s own Leo Sarkissian and Maura Sullivan during the budget period, when it came to highlighting the importance of key line items affecting our community. “The Arc demonstrates a clear mission in equity and inclusivity, which is something I’ve been all about, whether I’ve been working on district issues or working up here in the State House. These stand along with my own values, that I believe in such acceptance, with family and full participation,” Chair Michlewitz said, once again affirming his gratitude to work to ensure the best outcomes possible for our community in the budget.
DDS Commissioner Jane Ryder delivered the proclamation of March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness month on behalf of Governor Baker. Self-advocate Ryan Horrigan delivered a powerful keynote address, reflecting on biases and challenges he had faced in pursuit of employment and social inclusion. In particular, he discussed a time when he interviewed multiple times for the same position, only to be rejected due to what he and his career coach would eventually come to believe was the employer’s refusal to hire someone with autism. But despite all he has faced and overcome, Ryan left the audience with a powerful message. “I choose to be positive. … I believe we all choose to be treated with respect and dignity,” he stated, highlighting his now successful career at Endicott College.
We are so grateful to all who came out and made this event such an incredible success. We look forward to seeing you next year!