Over 350 people flocked to the Statehouse on Feb. 28 for Disability Awareness Day. They spread the word about the event’s theme: “Our Community, Our Health, Our Well-Being.” Members of the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights let lawmakers know that health begins where people live, learn, work and play.
VCDR President Sarah Launderville said, “Disability Awareness Day is a day of solidarity for the disability community. We share stories, teach and learn from one another, testify and advocate. There are so many concerns we have as a coalition this year and we were happy to have the opportunity to share those concerns with lawmakers.”
Those concerns include some aspects of the governor’s proposed budget, such as the elimination of the Attendant Services Program, whichhelps some of Vermont’s most vulnerable citizens hire personal care attendants to help with essential daily tasks such as bathing and getting dressed. Advocates also sounded the alarm about a proposed 2 percent cut to developmental services and about proposed changes to special education funding.
A highlight of the day was a graduation ceremony for graduates of the 2018 Vermont Leadership Series, which trains Vermonters with developmental disabilities, and their family members, to be advocates for positive social change.
Another highlight was a keynote address by Caroline Whiddon, executive director of the Me2/Orchestra, the world’s only classical music organization dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Me2/ was founded in Burlington in 2011 and recently relocated their headquarters to Boston, Mass. The Me2/Orchestra includes people with and without mental health issues working side-by-side in a supportive atmosphere. Whiddon shared the story of how the idea for the Me2/Orchestra was born after her brilliant orchestral conductor husband (who at the time was a friend and colleague of Whiddon) encountered fear and ignorance after his then-coworkers learned about his bipolar disorder diagnosis.
What resulted was a lawsuit (which Whiddon’s husband won) and the creation of an orchestra that offers a safe space for everyone, no matter what challenges they may be living with.
Whiddon said, ”We’re working on building an affiliate network around the country because we heard from so many other people who want to have access not only to music but to a stigma-free zone. I mean, think about it. How may stigma-free zones do any of us have in our lives? Not very many if any at all.”
The two dozen member organizations and allies of VCDR hold Disability Awareness Day every year, bringing together disability advocates, family providers and policy-makers from across the state.
The Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights is a cross-disability advocacy organization. VCDR member organizations, staff members and volunteers engage individuals with disabilities and family members in Vermont’s legislative and policy activities, enabling them to have a voice in the administrative and legislative decisions that affect their daily lives and civil rights.
VCDR gratefully acknowledges the support of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council and the Center on Disability & Community Inclusion, UVM. Their financial support has made the events of the day possible.
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