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Tuesdays with Liz: Tom Sannicandro Discusses His State Legislature Experience

Tuesdays with Liz: Tom Sannicandro Discusses His State Legislature Experience

Hello, and welcome to another edition of,
‘Tuesdays with Liz: Disability Policy for All.’ I’m really excited to be interviewing Tom
San- Sannicandro Ok, thank you. who is the Director of the
Institute for Community Inclusion one of the UCEDDs in Massachusetts. Today we will be talking with him about his
experience as a state legislator. So, welcome Tom. Thank you, Liz. Thank you for inviting me to your show. I’m really happy to be here and to talk
to you. The first question is: How did you get involved
in the state legislature in Massachusetts? So, I have a son, who’s now 33, who has
down syndrome, and when he was young, we were having a challenge getting him educated in
our town, which is a small town in Massachusetts. And because of that I got politically involved. I was in the Parent Advisory Council for Special
Education and then I ended up on School Committee, and that’s the school board in Massachusetts. From the school board, I learned a lot
about policy and about education, and then there was an opening in our state legislature
in Massachusetts. I didn’t think that people with intellectual
disabilities had good enough voice or representation in that body. So, I wanted to run to make sure that the
interests of people with intellectual disabilities was there and represented in the legislature. I was elected. I served for twelve years, and during that
time period, probably the most fulfilling for me was the impact we made for individuals
with intellectual disabilities in Massachusetts and hopefully outside of Massachusetts. So, we changed a number of special education
laws to improve educational outcomes. One of the big bills that I had we called
the ‘Real Lives’ bill, which allowed individuals with intellectual disabilities to control
their own money. Essentially to hire their own people, determine
where they were going to live, what they were going to do during the day, what they would
do for work, but give people with intellectual disabilities control over their money so they
could control their lives. That’s so fascinating. And I’m so happy that you shared that story
with us. The next question is: How has your experience
being a parent of a person with a disability shaped your experience as a state legislator? The biggest thing was that, having essentially
grown up with my son, in a lot of ways, saw that a lot of the issues and problems he had
had nothing to do with his abilities. And I think that was the most dramatic for
me, was that usually it was people’s perceptions or prejudice around disabilities or intellectual
disabilities that really created the problems for him. So, when I was in the legislature, I was always
looking to, how do we empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to be full
members of our society and to not exclude them, and to give them the power that they
needed to control their own lives. I knew that individuals with intellectual
disabilities needed to be seen and treated as equals to everyone else in the society. One of the things that I was also very proud
of in the legislature is that we were able to create, in Massachusetts, the first publicly
funded model for individuals with intellectual disabilities to attend our public colleges
and universities. And, since we’ve began that program, we
have probably had well over 1,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities attend our
public colleges and universities. The last question is: How has your experience in the state legislature been helpful in your role now as the Director of the Institute
for Community Inclusion? So, part of our role as a UCEDD is to disseminate
information. And, also to educate our elected officials
on issues regarding disability. And, having been on the other side of that,
I have some understanding of what can be effective for them and how to deal with them as we move
ahead. The other side as being the Director, I see
the sort of larger policy pieces that I’m interested in moving, and we’re interested
in moving as an organization. Particularly around sheltered work and meaningful
inclusion in work and in people’s neighborhoods. That I think one of the challenges we have
is that people, even though they live in neighborhoods like everyone else, frequently they don’t
know their neighbors and there’s not an opportunity for them to engage meaningfully
in their community. So, that’s an area that, from my policy
perspective, I see that we need to move and the Institute for Community Inclusion at UMASS-Boston
is making every effort to move that agenda. Thank you. And, believe me, I’ll do my best to help you. Great. Thank you, Liz. Thank you, Tom, for making the time to talk
with us and see you next week.

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