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Jul 09

Massachusetts takes a huge step forward in the realm of disability rights

Yesterday, the Massachusetts General Court took a huge step forward in the realm of disability rights. The Senate approved S2245, Relative to assisting individuals with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The bill isn’t perfect, but it is an enormous achievement on the part of the advocacy community. I like to say that advocacy is about asking for the moon and the stars, and if all you get is the moon, well, that isn’t so bad, is it?

Everyone who had a part in this accomplishment can be proud, and we can all congratulate each other.

The highlights of this bill (yet to be reconciled with the House version and signed by the Governor) include

  • makes the Special Commission Relative to Autism a permanent oversight body
  • creates special savings and expense accounts to receive tax benefits for expenditures that benefit an individual with a disability (of any kind)
  • expands the mission of DDS to include adults with developmental disabilities
  • encourages cooperation between DDS and DMH to provide mental health services to those with developmental disabilities
  • creates an endorsement in autism to certify teachers who are qualified to assist autistic students
  • extends insurance coverage for autism services to MassHealth (Medicaid)
  • requires the Autism Commission to report on employment and housing opportunities for autistic people in the Commonwealth

The annual cost of all of this is expected to be in the range of $30-$60 million, which will ultimately be offset by long-term savings as people are able to live more independently.

As I think back to the many struggles along the way, I give thanks to my own stubbornness and determination, and to the same qualities in many of my allies. We refused to take “no” for an answer at many crucial points, and we were never discouraged by those who told us we were only dreaming.

I had to argue, for example, with the staff of the Disability Law Center to get their assistance in writing some of this legislation. I was told it had very little chance of passing, so was not a good use of their time. I convinced them otherwise. Once the bill was filed and we started shopping it around, we were told by any number of lawmakers that major pieces of legislation like this do not get passed when they are first brought up. We even faced some early resistance within the Administration from folks who thought it was “too much too soon” but who did come around and ended up giving our proposals enthusiastic support.

So, there is much more to be done, but this is *huge*!

Michael Wilcox
AANE Advocacy Committee
Special Commission Relative to Autism

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