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Pictured, left to right: Dr. Lloyd Sheldon Johnson, Isaiah Lombardo, State Representative Paul F. Tucker

 

Advocates testify in support of inclusive higher education bills

A full room of advocates testified June 11 in support of H. 1219/S. 756 “An Act creating higher education opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities.”

MAC staff led efforts to organize and prepare five panels to testify before the Joint Committee on Higher Education, working closely with the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and other advocacy and educational organizations. Panelists included eight self-advocates, including MAC’s current Young Adult Leader Fellow Marc Trudel, a 22 year old with autism, and Brian Heffernan, another former Fellow who has Down syndrome. Other panelists included college faculty, legislators, parents, educators, and representatives of other advocacy organizations. Self-advocate Brian Guay and his mother, chair of MAC’s Friends of the Autism Center, Ann Guay, also testified about the impact of participating in college classes and activities. 

The bills, sponsored by Sen. Lovely, Sen.Rodrigues, Rep. Haddad, and Rep. Garballey, allow persons with intellectual disabilities, autism, and other developmental disabilities to access state colleges and universities in order to gain skills necessary to work and live independently in the community. Currently, 14 Massachusetts colleges and universities are including students through the state’s discretionary grant program, the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI), another MAC legislative priority.

Pictured: A panel of advocates address the Joint Committee on Higher Education

All the self-advocates underscored the importance of attending college with their nondisabled peers, allowing them to gain the skills necessary to secure paid employment and live more independently, actively participating in the community. They agreed college makes students more independent and confident in their futures, and should be made available to more students with disabilities.

Rep. Sean Garballey spoke in support of the bill, stating, “I can’t think of a more important piece of legislation to pass this session. These students want an opportunity just like their peers.”

MAC has led the campaign for this priority legislation since it was first introduced six years ago. The bill has previously passed the Senate unanimously, and supporters hope that the bill will be signed into law this session. Support for the inclusive higher education bill comes as part of a larger MAC initiative to increase transition opportunities for older youth with disabilities. MAC Senior Project Director Julia Landau credits self-advocates such as MAC’s Young Adult Leader Fellows for the success and growth of the inclusive college programs.

In his testimony, Trudel shared, “I am very proud of myself and amazed at how far I’ve come because of the opportunities given to me [in college]. I want this bill to pass so others like me can find out who they are, who they want to be in life.”

Click here for a press release from Dr. Lloyd Sheldon Johnson, professor at Bunker Hill Community College, in regards to the hearing.