Visions of Community: 2017
The Federation’s 2017 Visions of Community conference was held on Saturday March 4th at the Seaport World Trade Center, welcoming over 900 parents and professionals seeking information to better support children with special needs. In addition to 30 workshops in English, this year’s event hosted sessions in Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Haitian-Creole, and, for the first time, Arabic. Topics included Assistive Technology, Autism, Early Childhood, Dyslexia, Parent Leadership, Special Education, and Transition to Adulthood, among others. Our exhibition hall was, for many, a highlight of the event – 85 tables populated by organizations offering advocacy, support, financial planning, and medical care, as well as adaptive technology and recreation options. Visions of Community 2017 also offered the second year of the Federation’s Becoming a Leader Youth Forum, a “mini-conference” designed especially for young adults with special needs.
During the opening session, Federation Executive Director Rich Robison introduced special guests Elin M. Howe (Commissioner, MA Department of Developmental Services), Heidi Reed (Commissioner, MA Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Emily Sherwood (Deputy Commissioner, Child, Youth and Family Services), and Russell Johnson (Senior Associate Commissioner, MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), who gave updates on their respective programs and welcomed conference attendees.
The plenary also included our 2017 Community Partnership Award ceremony, which honors individuals whose contributions have made a difference in the lives of children with special needs. This year’s Awardees were Renée Boynton-Jarrett (Health Advocacy), Jamey Breen (Self-Advocacy), Gloria Ricardi Castillo (Community Outreach), Samatha Gould (Inclusive Theater), Johanna Hammer (Special Educator), Lisa Jennings and Linda LaPointe (Parent Advocacy), Maura Solari Johnson (School Administrator), Dianne Lecinskas (Inclusive Recreation), and Tracy Rayray (General Education). To read more about their work, visit: https://fcsn.org/voc/17cpa-winners/.
Dr. Paula Kluth, an author, advocate, and independent scholar, was our first keynote speaker. Dr. Kluth’s writing draws from her background as a special educator who has served as both a classroom teacher and an inclusion facilitator. Her presentation, titled “Don’t We Already Do Inclusion?”, was a rallying cry for increased inclusive practices in educational settings. Using an example from her own adolescence, she made the case that greater inclusion serves the development of children with and without special needs. While much progress has been made during the last several decades, Dr. Kluth encouraged the audience to continue striving for more, noting that students with disabilities continue to shatter others’ preconceptions about what they might “be able” to achieve.
Brennan Srisirikul closed out the plenary with an inspirational and deeply personal presentation calling for greater inclusion of all people. A Thai-born interracial actor, speaker, and self-advocate who lives with cerebral palsy, Brennan disclosed that he was openly gay, and described feeling like a “square peg in a round hole” during the early years of his life. Eventually, he began to see his disability as a “catalyst for understanding”, a way for him to hear people’s stories “of hardship, hope, and resilience”. He shared his conviction that the definition of “inclusion” encompasses women’s rights, racial equality, and the fight for acceptance of the LGBTQ community, adding that our many differences all contribute to the mosaic of the world. Brennan also played a key role in the day’s Youth Forum, leading a workshop on self-advocacy for the young adults.
More than 100 Federation staff and volunteers made this year’s conference possible, from childcare workers to interpreters, workshop hosts to everyone who helped set up and clean up. The Federation thanks each and every one of them for their efforts in making the day run smoothly. The true joy of the day remains seeing parents’ faces and watching them connect with and inspire one-another by sharing stories, resources, and support. The next Visions of Community Conference will be held on Saturday March 10, 2018 at the Seaport World Trade Center. Plan now to attend!