“Congressman McGovern has been a long time advocate of individuals with disabilities and their families, this forum is just another way for him to get out and meet the people he is representing.” This is how Rich Bissell, Regional Coordinator for Families Organizing for Change sums up the recent community forum that McGovern attended in Shrewsbury. After visiting with two Central Mass families in their homes, McGovern met with over 100 individuals with disabilities and their families.
Representatives from the Department of Mental Retardation, Matson Community Services, and the Seven Hills Foundation were also in attendance. McGovern spoke on issues of health care, education and social security before taking a series of questions from those in attendance. The local advocacy group “Central Massachusetts Families Organizing for Change” of which Bissell, a Grafton resident heads, coordinated the event. According to Bissell Families Organizing for Change is “a group of families and self advocates that have come together for mutual family support and advocacy in order to make life better for all individuals with disabilities.” Supported mainly by The Department of Mental Retardation, Families Organizing for Change provides advocacy training for families who care for a person with a disability. “Diane Enochs, (the DMR Area Director for the Central Region), has been tremendously supportive of FOC,” Bissell says, “ Without her support we would face a real uphill battle.” McGovern spoke about how “Government and Community must work together to ensure that individuals with disabilities are given opportunity and a chance to succeed.” He also spoke about “utilizing existing resources in creative and more effective ways.” “DMR seems to be taking a front seat when it comes to reaching out to the community. Supporting organizations such as FOC and Self Advocates Standing Strong (a Statewide group of individuals with disabilities) puts decision making power in the hands of the consumer, where it really belongs.” Stated Cindy Bissell, Mother of twin boys with disabilities and wife of Richard.
Issues raised at the forum included transportation problems for people who cannot drive, lack of resources at the public school, and financial difficulties faced by families who have children with disabilities. “The message that I wanted the Congressman to hear is that Families want choices. Bissell said, we are like all parents, we want to be able to keep our children safe, at home with us, and we want to be able to give them the tools that they will need to succeed in life. My sons need extra support now and they might even require a certain level of support their entire lives. They deserve the same opportunities as every other child. Eric is in a wheelchair and will need that wheelchair for his entire life. But that wheelchair is only a small part of who he is and does not totally define him. If he is given adequate support now, when he is young, there is a good chance that he will need much less support later in life, and more than that, there is a good chance that he will have a lot more opportunities for success.”