Rep. Scibak Speaks to the Importance of Disability Inclusion in Higher Education

Below are remarks given by Rep. John Scibak, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, regarding inclusion of individuals with intellectual disabilities (ID) and autism in higher education. MAC is grateful to Rep. Scibak for his longstanding support of youth with disabilities.

Rep. Scibak delivered these remarks at the Institute for Community Inclusion’s Beacon for Inclusion Awards Ceremony on June 6, where he accepted an award on behalf of Speaker Robert DeLeo, a long-standing leader and champion of rights for children and adults with disabilities.

Former State Representative Tom Sannicandro, ICI Director, sponsored legislation to include individuals with ID and autism in Massachusetts state colleges and universities. MAC has led advocacy efforts to increase access to higher education for individuals with disabilities through the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (MAICEI) and related legislation.

Remarks: Rep. John Scibak
House Chair, Joint Committee on Higher Education

It is an honor and a privilege to accept this award on behalf of Speaker DeLeo. Throughout the event, Tom Sannicandro has been saying that this is the 50th Anniversary. For me, it has been 45 years since I first walked into an institution and worked with persons with developmental disabilities.

Forty-five years ago, virtually all services were provided in institutions and those facilities were located in remote areas, far removed from our population centers. When I first moved to Massachusetts, I worked at one of those facilities, Belchertown State School.  At the time, UMass Amherst had a program called the Boltwood Project, where students visited the institution to work with the residents.

Today, things are different. Rather than college students going to institutions to work and interact with residents, persons with disabilities are now going to college campuses and taking classes. Whether at UMass Amherst, UMass Boston, Westfield State University, Cape Cod Community College, or other campuses, students with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to take classes and participate in college-related activities. While this program has definitely had a positive impact on the students with disabilities, I believe that the greatest impact has been seen on the other students, especially for those who have had little or no prior experience interacting with persons with intellectual disabilities.

A major reason why this program is so successful is that it focuses on a student’s abilities, not their disabilities. It gives them an opportunity to fully participate and experience college life and prepare them for what lies ahead in their future. Although we don’t know what that future will hold, these students can and should have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Who knows? Perhaps one of these students will someday be serving as a member of this legislature representing their District as I have done. There is no reason why they can’t and I know that Speaker DeLeo, who has been a strong supporter and advocate for persons with disabilities, would welcome having one or more serving in the House.

So, on behalf of Speaker DeLeo, I want to thank you for honoring him with this award and I hope that you have a successful day here in the State House and I congratulate you for all that you have accomplished.