A Letter From Chester Finn, President of SABE

This statement is my personal opinion and not necessarily the opinion of the SABE board. I am writing this to go with SABE’s Position Statement on Employment.

It is important for people to understand that employment is important for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities no matter what the disability or circumstance. I have friends who are still in sheltered employment and day programs that want an opportunity to get out. They want to have a job and contribute in whatever way that is.

The most important thing is giving a person an opportunity. I would not be where I am without those opportunities and self-advocacy, knowing how to speak for myself. I was given different types of training opportunities through the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (those words should be changed), and asking for an opportunity from the Commissioner of OMRDD (working to change that name too).

I asked for an opportunity and got it and here I am 13 years later making progress. That is why I believe other people need opportunities.

When I first went to a sheltered workshop I did not want to go. I took it as an opportunity to learn something I didn’t know. I was determined to stay there for a short period of time, get some experience and leave.  But most people never get that opportunity to leave. I have never heard from my friends or other people I know say, “I want to be in a sheltered workshop or a day program.”  They are there because they were told by an agency or other people that is where they should be. On the other hand the people I know that got an opportunity to have a real job are successful when they got support.

In 2005, at the meeting of the Alliance For Full Participation, I had conversations with Martin Luther King III. One of his questions for me was, “How are we going to get the community to know who we are and get information about us?” I thought about this. And my belief is that we have to be out there in the community for people to see us and get to know us and work with us. The laws of the US Congress give the right to work to people with intellectual and development disabilities as well as people without disabilities. Other groups fighting for their civil rights would not stand for separate places. Neither should we!

As a person that is blind and visually impaired I have a better opportunity for employment then I do as a person with a developmental disability. There is something wrong with that!

So I challenge developmental disabilities agencies, family members and self-advocates to do a better job for fighting for our civil rights to work.

Chester Finn

January 31, 2010