Editor's Note: Thanks to RespectAbilityUSA for sharing this blog that originally appears on their web site.
“I am here today to tell you a story of hope,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, before speaking about his life and experiences as a person with multiple disabilities.
“It’s a story of a young boy with physical and severe learning disabilities,” Malloy said.
He related his early experiences and how “reading and writing were almost impossible” for him.
“A child thought to be, as the term was used in the early 1960s, ‘mentally retarded’ as late as the fourth grade. A boy who could not tie a shoe or button his shirt until the fifth grade. Someone who knew the harsh words of bullies on the playground and discrimination in the classroom.”
Malloy went on to speak about the difference that his family, teachers and high expectations had on his life. He had “a mother who believed deeply in giving him the opportunities for success,” benefitted from “great teachers” and had “a support system.”
Together, these factors helped him to succeed in school and go on to pursue higher education. Malloy related his experiences as “the first learning-impaired person to take the essay portion of a bar exam orally in three different states.”
These experiences, Malloy said, tell an “American story” about “why we are stronger together.”
“I believe that we must instill hope in every American,” Malloy continued. “It doesn’t matter their race or their gender or … what their learning abilities are. Every child, every American deserves an opportunity to be successful in this life.”
Beyond speaking about his personal experiences as a person with disabilities, Malloy talked about the critical role that state governors play by “solving problems and bringing hope to more Americans.” He touted his record as governor of the Constitution State and his state’s efforts to create jobs, improve access to education, pass criminal justice reforms that “gives non-violent offenders a second chance,” equal pay and paid sick leave.
In terms of competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities, Connecticut has done much in recent years. According to Census data from 2013, Connecticut ranks 13th in the country as measured by the employment rate of people with disabilities. Fully 40 percent of Connecticut’s 175,700 working-age people with disabilities are employed and there are approximately 13,700 youth with disabilities in Connecticut’s school system.
However, while people with disabilities in Connecticut have increasing job opportunities, the state’s Department of Developmental Services recently has seen significant budget cuts. As the result of a comprehensive budget deal passed by the state legislature in May, more than nine million dollars was cut from the budget for community services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and more than 4.6 million dollars was cut for employment services. As reported by the Hartford Courant, these budget cuts included terminations for “occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists.”
Malloy is one of several state leaders who have spoken publically about the impact that disability has had on their lives. Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont and Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi all have dyslexia. In various ways, their personal experiences have shaped their political choices.
His speech was the first of many to put the issue of disability front and center on the convention stage tonight in Philadelphia. The governor’s speech touched on issues well known to the 56 million Americans who have disabilities ranging from high expectation to the hope that economic opportunity provides.
Philip Pauli is the Policy and Practices Director of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization working to empower people with disabilities to achieve the American dream. He works on education and advocacy efforts surrounding the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). Pauli’s role with RespectAbility includes communicating with state leaders and workforce agencies on best practices for employing people with disabilities under WIOA and addressing issues related to competitive integrated employment. In addition, he supervises several Policy Fellows through RespectAbility’s Fellowship Program. Prior to RespectAbility, Pauli spent several years working on advocacy and policy at a nonprofit focused on traumatic brain injury.
Pauli holds a Master’s in Social Policy and Philosophy from the George Washington University and a Bachelor’s with University Honors from the University of Denver. While at the University of Denver, he was one of two students selected to participate in a Global Scholars program at Oxford University. He is deeply committed to helping build a better future for people with disabilities, advancing policies to bring them closer to the American Dream. You can reach him at PhilipP@RespectAbilityUSA.org.