Recently, I came across a column about friendships. I thought the commentary was too narrow – it focused on deficits of kids (or adults) with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). And though the author had some good points, she questioned the value of connecting people with disabilities with those without disabilities and argued that the lack of social skills would be a barrier.
Bob Perske was a household name in our field from the 1970s through the 1990s. He and his wife Martha reflect the best traits of advocates, artists, and caring souls. The author of Hope for the Families, New Life in the Neighborhood, to name just two, and formal government reports, died at age 88 this week. His wife, Martha survives him and her lovely artwork has adorned our offices along with others. Martha told theHartford Courant, “he was just driven; he just hated injustice, when anyone was treated unfairly.” I first met Bob in the basement of the Heller School, possibly in 1982, hosted by the legendary, Gunnar Dybwad. Perhaps two score of us, parents, professionals, and some Brandeis students, sat in the audience to hear Perske’s presentation. It was a big step in my post-graduate school education. Fast forward many years after getting to know him at conferences and the like, I met up with him again. I’ll never forget him telling me that he and his wife were doing all right with a great retirement plan, Social Security. He was still educating even through small talk. Bob’s books were uplifting. For example, New Life helped readers understand why community life is meant for all of us. The book with relatively large print even included a few pages of law in regard to the NIMBY (not in my backyard) behavior toward group homes. His novel Show No Mercy shared how a youth with I/DD saved his father and himself after a crash. Bob fought injustice. He was laser focused on the bias that existed toward people with disabilities, especially those who have intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities. Some years after settling in Darien, Connecticut, Bob dove deeply into what he felt was “unequal justice” or when individuals with intellectual limitations were tricked into guilty pleas by officers or attorneys. In 2002, Bob became the only non-lawyer to ever receive the American Bar Association’s Paul Hearne Award for Services to Persons with Disabilities. Thank you Bob Perske and Martha; learn more about both of them here. We will continue to fight the bias that exists and one day celebrate its eradication. Sincerely, Leo Sarkissian The Arc of Massachusetts, Executive Director