In the Fall of 2013, the Arc of Greater Plymouth started an advocacy program for individuals with developmental disabilities in Plymouth County, who want to speak out and to be heard about issues which are important to them.  With the support and encouragement of Casey Seaman, Plymouth Area Director of the Department of Developmental Services, three advocacy groups were developed and are facilitated by Victoria Pattinson.  Roger Monty, the Executive Director of the Arc of Greater Plymouth noted “the establishment of this program allows for individuals with disabilities to speak on behalf of themselves as informed members of their community”.

Victoria Pattinson, a recent Master’s graduate from the University of Sussex in England, explains “research shows that supporting individuals with developmental disabilities to advocate for themselves empowers individuals to make decisions about issues, which impact their lives.  Furthermore, by advocating for issues of importance to both themselves and others, individuals with disabilities can make meaningful connections in their community.  Thus, challenging predominant stereotypes and promoting social inclusion.”

An important way for individuals to put their advocacy skills into action is monthly trips to the State House in which individuals educate their State Representatives and Senators about issues.  Leigh-Ann, who was recognized by Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong for her contribution to advocacy in the Southeast Region of Massachusetts, explains that “visiting the State House is beneficial to meet with your legislators and they can tell what you’re doing”.  The legislators and their staff devote four hours each month to these meetings, welcoming advocacy groups from throughout the Commonwealth.

The Advocacy Groups from the Plymouth raise important issues such as:

1. Funding for additional staff at the Disabled Persons Protection Commission for FY 2015
Leigh-Ann summarized, “In the last year, the reports of abuse have gone up by 17%. But, the number of staff has gone down from 32 to 28. The investigation time for a case of abuse went up from one month to eight months”. Another advocate contributed, “We need enough staff to make sure nobody gets hurt.”  Advocacy was instrumental to securing four additional staff at the Disabled Persons Protection Commission.  The advocates continue to request additional staff since, as Leigh-Ann explained, “We still need more staff because an investigation of abuse should not be longer than thirty days.”

2. The Passage of the Real Lives Bill
Advocates were delighted with the Passage of the Real Lives Bill, after educating their legislators throughout the winter. The legislation provides individuals with more choice and control to spend their funding on supports at their home, in their place of employment, in the community, and to socialize.

3. Accessible Playgrounds
One advocate, Marie Saldi, was awarded the Barbara Wilensky Gopen Memorial Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She is completing a project about inclusive playgrounds for children with disabilities.  It’d important for everybody to know about playgrounds because when I was little accessible playgrounds didn’t exist. It’s important for people to know about accessible playgrounds so that children with disabilities don’t have to feel excluded” At a recent State House meeting, Marie discussed the importance of building more accessible playgrounds throughout Massachusetts. Many legislators were very interested and requested additional information as Marie’s project progresses.

Representative Vincent deMacedo, of the Plymouth district,our newly elected Senator, is a frequent attendee at the State House meetings and he also visited the Arc to speak with advocates further about their legislative concerns.  At the last meeting, the advocates thanked Representative deMacedo for his support of the Real Lives Bill and also discussed the importance of building an accessible playground in Plymouth.  “It is important to build a playground because there isn’t one. And it’s important for kids with disabilities to feel normal     and not to feel like a freak, because if they can play with other kids they would feel included.”