In concert with activists and advocates, State Senator Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, and State Representative Denise Provost, D-Somerville, recently launched a Disabilities Caucus within the Massachusetts Legislature. The inaugural event took place at the State House.
Barrett and Provost founded the Caucus to promote cohesive advocacy for people with disabilities. “Groups representing the disabled don’t have the State House clout other minority groups have,” said Barrett, who has served as Senate Chair of the legislative committee that oversees policies related to people with disabilities. “The difficulties posed by each physical, emotional, and cognitive challenge seem so distinctive. But distinctiveness needn’t mean fragmentation. The Caucus will help foster broad awareness.”
“Although this month marks the 25th anniversary of passage of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities are not always offered common courtesy — let alone afforded their civil rights,” said Provost. “The Disabilities Caucus aims to focus attention on the needless disadvantages which so often impede persons living with disabilities.”
The first event centered on a discussion about disability etiquette, including the always-evolving terms that people with disabilities prefer to use to refer to the communities of which they are part. Barrett and Provost said it was a hit, noting that the room was packed with legislators, staff, and advocates.
Speakers included experts from the Disability Policy Consortium, the Mass. Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and the Transformation Center. Barrett directed praise at Melissa Reilly, a staff member in Senator Eldridge’s office, for her inspirational words.
Bruce Howell, Accessibility Coordinator at the Carroll Center, said, “As a legally blind Massachusetts resident, an employee of the Carroll Center for the Blind, and a Commonwealth taxpayer, I am grateful that Senator Barrett and Representative Provost are including the voices and needs of disabled communities in the legislative process. With their leadership, I am convinced that our entire Commonwealth Legislature will be better equipped to communicate and address the challenges of open dialogue with everyone they represent.”
“The event was an energizing kick-off to the Disabilities Caucus,” said Allegra Stout, a community organizer at the Boston Center for Independent Living. “We’re looking forward to continuing the conversations and working together to improve integration and opportunities for the disability community.”
Provost said that the Caucus is planning future briefings on employment and workplace accessibility, among other topics. Barrett added that he wants the group to generate discussion, which he hopes will produce ideas — on using technology to accommodate work and careers, for instance.