When I started to write my November message I planned to talk about the important legislation and actions of Congress and the White House that we need to focus on to make certain that our collective voices are heard. The national discussion on Medicaid, food stamps, minimum wage, housing, and much more will continue to occur and I can assure you we will be actively involved in such discussions.
However, instead of talking about specific legislation, I wanted to talk about how one person can change things. Throughout our history, we have seen countless examples of how one person’s actions, words, or voices changed the course of our nation. Rosa Parks said no to sitting in the back of the bus, and from that single event the civil rights movement rapidly became a national effort to advance the human rights for people of color. Dr. Martin Luther King’s gallant leadership resulted in laws protecting the rights of so many. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for speaking the truth and for equality and thru his actions, a country was changed for the better. Then there is Ruth Sullivan.
Like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Ruth Sullivan is a hero to me and so many. Ruth is one of the founders of the Autism Society of America. In 1965, she was told by her son’s doctor that he was diagnosed with autism. The doctor suggested to Ruth that the best she could
do for her son was to place him in a state institution. In 1965, schools could discriminate against people with a disability and there were very few, if any, non institutional placement options to Ruth, but she said no. She said that placing her child, or any child, in a state run
institution was not acceptable. Remember, in 1965 there was no internet, so Ruth painstakingly researched other options for her son that would allow him to remain at home and achieve the highest quality of life possible. She sought out similar parents who agreed with
Ruth that their child with an autism diagnosis deserved so much more than the one option of institutionalization. Through Ruth’s gallant and never say no efforts, the Autism Society of America was formed. Today, Ruth’s son is an active member of his community and is doing great!
Ruth’s leadership resulted in almost all of the federal legislation which protects the rights of students with a disability to a good education, ensuring non-discrimination for every individual with a disability and assuring that society must create needed accommodations for all with a disability so that they may be able to succeed.
Ruth still is a strong advocate for all of us. Whenever I visit Ruth in Huntington, WV, I see a hero who unselfishly helped every parent and every individual impacted by a disability. Ruth saw a nation in which a person with disability needed to be respected, valued and held to
the highest level of dignity. She moved the “needle” on that effort more than anyone I know. Today, she continues the charge!
There are many people today who are inspired by and working like Ruth, Dr. King, President Mandela and Rosa Parks. They silently go about their business and make each of us better and make life easier for all of us. The world is certainly in need of more people like them. Rather than glamorizing movie stars, television reality show personalities and sports stars, let’s salute the unsung heroes who do what is right each and every day and make the world a better place for all of us because of what they do. If you know such a person, let me know. I can always be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. With Thanksgiving Day approaching, if you do know someone like this, please say thank you to them!