The big typing of my friends, Kris and Scott, is a compelling argument for inclusion for all people. I met a young film maker, Adrian Esposito at a self- advocacy conference in Albany, NY last fall. Adrian made a film “We Can Shine-From Institutions to Independence.” Jeanette and I connected with Adrian and his Mom. My friends and I recently gathered to watch this history of moving to community life. Dayna and Jeanette looked nervously at each other like it was too much for my young typing pals and me to watch. I think it is important to see the horror Larry may know from the scars he bears. My heart is torn knowing my friend lived without communication. Larry is now a beaming beacon of light in his community. History is our lesson to cease isolation and open the door to inclusion.
Following are the voices of my typing buddies:
Kris: “The movie was heartbreaking at times for me, but important to see the contrast. Institutional life doesn’t allow personable characteristics to show. Working outside of the institution, in the community builds a person’s quality of life, allowing relationships to be built and equality to manifest.”
“I really had a great sense of relief that I was raised in a family with love and a mother who is my rock. I am graciously pleased that quality of life is a big part of our supports. I love that we can have a voice and know others are listening.”
Kris, Scott and I rock the self-advocacy movement as members of the Washington County Communication Alliance. Our mission statement is: “The Communication Alliance is a group of self-advocates who have communication challenges and type to express ourselves. We advocate for an individual’s right to communicate, for Quality of Life initiatives and for increased public awareness and education.” We are also members of Green Mountain Self-Advocates (GMSA). Let’s come together to rock the Inclusion Movement. The time is now my fans and allies.
The main thing that diminishes my quality of life is the way some people think I need to have things in routines. Let’s say meals for example, I think people get stuck in their support like serving me the same old meal. I need to have lots of variety in my life just like the food choices need to be varied. Got inclusion? That applies to diversity in communities making room to move our plane of intelligence from plateaus to pinnacles of sharper intelligence.
It is because of inclusive environments that wretches like me have communication. The tipping point has come with people like me demanding proper support to be heard.
Let’s be positive in our leading the inclusion movement as the great leader Dr. King did in his day.
We also have dreams, more like yours than not.
This has been a year of great progress for my work toward fading typing support. My biggest accomplishment is the changing of attitudes. At our last Green Mountain Self-Advocates meeting we went around the table to share our biggest joy or work accomplishment. Some gushed over their crop of sweet potatoes. I typed what is in my mind my own sweet garden of the flowering perennials of future seeds of change. Happy New Year to my friends and fans. I hope to continue cultivating inclusive attitudes. Join me on my mission to spread seed pods to blow out upon the fields of change.
It was great times meeting up with old friends and meeting new ones in Long Beach, California at this year’s TASH conference with Master Trainers Harvey, Pascal, Marilyn, Darlene, Christi and Syracuse lovely grad students. We did a 4 hour training on communication, movement, research and message passing. I was able to type a word that Pascal was naïve to and message pass in front of a group of strangers…very cool. Our friend Sue Rubin and I took our history from early experiences and educated on the transforming power of communication. The World of autism opened up to possibilities only because we have a profoundly amazing way of thinking and the calm support we need to express our intelligent lessons of a life that is quirky but every bit as important as any other.
The sun took a rest behind the clouds. So what if sun wants to sleep; Larry and Tracy’s wit brought sunny smiles to the sun seekers. The Autism Society Inland Empire Communication Conference at the University of Redlands was a beautiful way to top off our sundae which California slim ladies likely request only at fat conscious yogurt shops. This Green Mountain Man prefers loaded with chunky hunks of yum from Vermont’s Ben & Jerry’s. Larry and I felt like Hollywood actors. Yogurt and ice cream do appear an odd combination but Larry and I felt the power of what our movie has done to open our world and that is a beautiful world of Inclusion. Thirty years ago the beautiful teens looked at me with passing glances of dismissiveness. Now all my charm is shining through to show the inner beauty of my wisdom and kind spirit. Tracy and Larry should make a new flavor for our fans to enjoy on a visit to Ben & Jerry’s. I am looking for fan ideas. Let’s hear it.
Over the past month my mind has been extremely focused on the power of inclusion. Inclusion is not mainstreaming. More than idealistic politically correctness it is celebrating our interconnectedness. Lessons of humanity lift our social fabric to magical tapestries where natural abilities may soar. Like Larry and I have communicated to diverse audiences in our travels, we are first men with intelligence. Like Larry says: “More like you than not.” Judge us not by our diagnosis. One of the best questions Larry and I were asked at the Chittenden South in-service in November was “What do you tell parents of kids with disabilities who oppose inclusion?” My response: “What kind of life are we talking about with seclusion and sameness and focused on disability? With that Larry had at Brandon and how did that work? Now that we are here, it’s due to being included. What hope is there without seeing us in the mix?”
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About Henry: Henry is an Autistic self-advocate who communicates using AAC (augmentative and alternative communication). He was denied the right to attend his neighborhood school. Henry is steadfast in his determination that all students must be presumed competent and have equal access to education with appropriate supports in their communities. Thousands of friends and advocates have written to show support for the rights of Henry, and others like him. Below is Tracy’s proclamation.
“I stand with Henry in his demand to see the intelligent mind within. I met Henry in my quest to change the World’s view of disability to recognizing that there is intelligence in all people, if only the Presumption of Competence is the paramount pulse coursing through the veins of educators. I stand with Henry because in Henry I see true grit. Henry is an amazingly resilient young activist. In my mind he is a leader taking down old barriers of discrimination, shifting our culture to one of seeing and believing in ability, rather than judging based on unreliable assessments. I stand on the platform of the typing train with you my pal.”
The right to vote is not only my right but my responsibility. I know how cliché I sound typing that. I truly believe that everyone that has this right must be informed about the issues and the political history of the candidates. Many of my fellow self-advocates depend on support to be able to flex our voting muscles. Many of my friends rely on their allies to vote. It is the right of every person so hear me clearly; if you work for a person, it is your job to assist them to vote if that is their desire. My way of making political decisions is I bet very much like that of most Americans. I read the newspaper, watch the news and of course get blitzed by overly dramatized campaign advertising. Locally, in Montpelier’s golden dome, as Vermonters we are most fortunate to be able to chat directly to our legislators often. Walking through my hometown of Barre, there is Tess Taylor listening. Alongside her listening intently to the voice of typing is Anthony Pollina. Of course, I can’t leave out Phil Scott. In Washington, our Bernie Sanders is a man of integrity listening to his people back home. This country is built on hope. My man Barack Obama gets my vote for his determination to go forward. Forward for all, not just those wearing mitts. Hard typing with mitts on.
My name is Tracy Thresher. I grew up in Barre, Vermont. As a child, I struggled with no reliable way to communicate. I now live out my dream of traveling to other states to educate others on movement and communication differences. Primarily, I advocate to promote the Presumption of Competence. I have had great opportunities to advance in my career thanks to Harvey who is the Communication Specialist at Community Developmental Services which is part of Washington County Mental Health Services. Together, we have traveled to educate in the United States. In 2009, while filming the documentary “Wretches and Jabberers”, we traveled to Finland, Sri Lanka and Japan to join forces with other activists who are living on the periphery of society. Quietly ignored autism as a rule feels as though society as a whole is not interested in knowing we are intelligent.
I have been using supported typing since I met Bill and then Alan who worked for Washington County Mental Health. I was in my early twenties. Harvey came on board once Alan moved to Maine. I was 23. I am now 45.
My case manager, Rachel, is a great communication partner and well organized. Having her in my life is more important than I can express. She has been with me for nearly ten years. A fiery passion for helping people describes Rachel.
Without the diligent organized support of well-trained communication partner, Jeanette, I could not stand before you today. Thanks to my team of communication partners I have opportunities to educate others. I have moved from working at the back of the store, feeling like I had no future, to now being respected for my activism and my work as a Communication Consultant. I serve on the State of Vermont Autism Advisory and Planning Committee, the Vermont Communication Task Force, and the Washington County Communication Alliance. I am standing before you tonight with respect for the difficult work you face with making critical life altering decisions which affect the most vulnerable Vermonters. The little state of Vermont should serve as a leader in equity for their progress with their policies such as the Respectful Language Law and expansion of health insurance coverage for autism therapies .
My communication is paramount to my well-being and is key to my being an active citizen. I take my right to vote seriously and pay close attention to politics. I may appear to be a man shrouded by a cloak of incompetence but if you will take the time to listen to my typing you will understand I am intelligent.
The Presumption of Competence is the message I hope you take away today.
The AutCom group is one of many great thinkers. I am fortunate to have been in sunny Maryland to present my ideas and share my knowledge of this life. Being in the presence of good company is greatly freeing. For me good company is defined as people who are open to listening to painstakingly slow typing. I want to thank the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council for their financial support to make it possible for me to share my work with others. I was able to connect with other activists to work on promoting presumption of competence. From my perspective, I am able to share the progress that has been made in Vermont since I was in school. My life is much more my own because of my ability to communicate. Quietly ignored autism feels as though society as a whole is disinterested. AutCom is blissfully open-minded listening to people who have rather different ways than mainstream. The celebratory nature of AutCom is one I hope to promote in my work. Presumption of competence is the key to freely opening up dialogue with people. That is my platform to take to the world.
Our trip to Arizona was like an oasis. Kind of like a camel, I felt my backpack containing my hydrating Qwerty iPad is my stored thirst quenching canteen, not only to my mind but also to the professionals at the Directors Institute. The educators lapped up our presentation on “All People Want Communication” like it was most refreshing to hear the poetic typing of Larry and the true grit Green Mountain dry wit of Tracy.
While in Arizona, I also had the opportunity to visit a progressive communication school. I loved my trip to the Assuming Competence Today (ACT) School. It was my turn to lap up top shelf pitchers of Presumption of Competence, cleansing my mind of withered old memories of seriously inept hard knock schools that Larry and I survived. It is like cooling mountain pure spring water to be in the presence of wonderfully out-of-the-box thinkers like the parents and educators that Larry and I met at ACT. My mind soared like a liberated eagle to think my hard-knock-lacking-in-communication-filled-with-idle-time so-called education is now my way to draw from the well of justice. My mission is for my life to be a beacon of light to parents and children. The thing is the kids are my beam of light leading me to the oasis I sought as a lonely misunderstood boy.
Larry and I met the smiling Gretchen in the DC airport on one of our trips to promote the Presumption of Competence. The movie lit a fire in Gretchen to fan the flame of communication supports for a teen she clearly loves. I had the opportunity to meet Gretchen at the Autism Summer Institute in Concord, NH recently. She was there cheering Nick on with his team. Nick also had his Mom with him. Her persistence to arrange for Nick to type with me spoke volumes to me. The persistent nature of parents is critical to making kids push through to communicate. Nick is a blogger like Larry and I. Please take a look at Nick’s blog.
My conversation with Nick began with presenting him with the mostly geared for self-advocacy tee shirt, better suited to parade on legislative red carpets of political change. Nick, will you be the new leading man in Gerry Wurzburg’s professional myth-breaking promotion of her Presumption of Competence library?
Nick, I present you with the newest version of the Green Mountain Self Advocates tee shirt. Wear it proudly my friend for it represents the passing of the “No more R word” bill into law by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin last year. No longer will children in Vermont be referred to in derogatory language like the cruelest of all, retard. The new R word is respect.
For more information about The Respectful Language Law, check out my pal, Max Barrows, in his video on the Green Mountain Self Advocates website.
It is my mission to crumble institutional entrapment that continues to exist not only literally but in old thinking that people without typical voices have no desire for love or friendships. It is definitely untrue. Our need for friendship is no different than for neurotypical people; the key as with most things in life is interconnected. The key is communication. The other piece is open mindedness and opportunities to connect.
Photos from Tracy’s conversation with Nick: