Sorry I have been unable to post for some time. We last posted an article from Paul Mansell, advocate for the disabled and Consumer Information Specialist for California’s Regional Center.

I am proud to present another article, which Paul presented as a high school commencement address. His speech is full of information and resources for handicapped people to achieve a successful, independent life.

One again, welcome Mr. Paul Mansell to join www.issuesofthe disabled:

A Commencement Speech

By Paul Mansell

10:00, June 28th, 2019

I find it a high honor to be invited here today to speak to you on this happy occasion.  My time is limited so I will try to stay focused on the topics of self-advocacy, disability pride, employment first, self-determination, and getting involved in your community accented with personal asides.

Self-Advocacy is the personal and civil rights movement that dates back to the 1960s where individuals with developmental disabilities voice their rights, needs, hopes and dreams; and make decisions and take control of their lives. Self-advocacy is a stairway that leads from self-care, daily needs, collective action, and ending with political advocacy. 

Self-advocacy is confidently speaking up for yourself, your wants, needs, hopes, and concerns. Speaking up means to speak out at meetings, to say out loud what you think or how you feel about what is happening during a meeting or during a time when you want to speak for yourself, not having others speak for you or talk instead of letting you talk. It means taking pride in yourself and your disabilities.

Self-advocacy goes beyond just talking but making decisions:

  • Where to work, go to school, or go to day program
  • Where to recreate
  • What to buy and manage your money
  • How to have fun

Self-Advocacy means the following:

  • Knowing your rights and being informed
  • Following through on what you say you will do
  • Matching your words with your actions
  • Being honest
  • Listening to others and talking with them respectfully
  • Celebrating all of you, your disabilities as well as your abilities
  • Voting, staying informed, and getting involved in the political world.

Disability Pride is taking pride and celebrating all of you, your strengths, talents, accomplishments and achievements, your disabilities, health issues, and limitations. You are not broken and needing fixing by a health care professional.  Free yourselves from conventional social norms and expectations.  All of us are born with dignity, value, and purpose. We are not accidents and are part of a larger plan. The challenge is to find and claim your place in that larger plan. We all have the right to lead happy and meaningful lives. Once I discovered disability pride I felt truly liberated.

Love yourself. Don’t settle for living off of government benefits. That is too limiting. You deserve more out of life than that. Make Employment First a priority in your life.  Go out and find Competitively Integrated Employment.  It will give you a reason to get up in the morning, get dressed and get going, you will make relationships with interesting people, and you will be paid with money that you can spend on things you want and need.  You may be able to save money and put it in a CalABLE account. Once you have achieved employment success, you may be able to earn private insurance. Remember you can contribute to work place in many different ways, but one way you can is bring diversity to the work place.

Self-determination has two meanings. In the school system it is making decisions and following through on those decisions. In the Regional Center system, it is a funding program where clients and families have greater control over their budgets. Making decisions is hard and following through on them is even harder. Starting to make decisions when you are young gives you the foundation for making decisions when you are older. Having greater control over your budget will allow you to get services that currently Regional Center will not pay for. Both definitions stress control and responsibility.

Integrating yourself into your community is perhaps the most import thing to achieving happiness in life. We all have something to contribute and give to our community through our education, work, health, volunteering and relationships. Society is enriched with our contributions. Community becomes expressions of our greater humanity. These connections are reasons for joy and celebration and give purpose and direction to life.

There once was a time, when people with disabilities were excluded from the mainstream of community and warehoused in state hospitals in the name of protecting “them” from a harsh reality. Through much compassion and a call of justice, people with disabilities have increasingly been freed and integrated into the greater community. Tremendous progress has been made in this regard and tremendous work remains in front of us for people with disabilities to be fully connected with the greater community. 

I participate in my community by going to my church. I go to the 5:30PM mass on Saturdays. I am accepted as a full member. I have friends in the church. When I had to move, the men of the church helped me move my effects to my new apartment.  Being integrated into the community takes time and commitment, but it can make a world of difference in your life.

I close with a call to action. Your future awaits you full of opportunity and possibility. Seize the moment and make the most out of life.

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I am a 25-year old female with cerebral palsy who wants people to know the issues which handicapped people face in today's world. In addition to the everyday challenges which all people face, people with disabilities must grapple with issues of friendships, dating, business relations, safety issues, and a host of other vital matters, beginning with how to get up and get going each day. I want to relate my story, as well as issues faced by others, and invite all readers to respond and interact.

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