Newsline Volume 33, Number 3

From the Executive Director

That Their Dreams Can Someday Come True

Sybil Raye Feldman was a friend of mine! I met her over 20 years ago when I worked for a period of time at the Fernald Developmental Center in Waltham. Sybil was protesting for disability rights outside the front entrance when we met. A former resident of that facility, Sybil had established herself in the community, living independently and free. Sybil made it her business to advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities. Sybil passed from this world late last fall after a lifetime of advocacy.

Sybil was born in 1940 in Boston and for four years lived with her parents and sister in Malden. Born with CP, she experienced a 105 degree fever when she was an infant which worsened her condition. Her parents were unable to find adequate medical care and she spent a great deal of time in a hospital. At age 5, she had several surgeries at Boston Children's Hospital to reduce her severe muscle spasms. Sybil was sent to a private special school in Rhode Island for "18 months of training". During this time she was able to visit her family on weekends. However, she told me that her parents felt that they had to keep her inside the house because of excessive teasing by the neighborhood children.

According to her autobiography, "Sybil Disobedience", she was enrolled in the "Industrial School for Crippled Children" (later known as the Cotting School), then attended the Kennedy School for five more years. On March 30, 1955 (at the age of 15) she was admitted to the Walter E. Fernald State School to receive "psychotherapy and scholastic training" and there remained until she was 36 years old. In 1976 she was moved to a community residence and remained there until 1982.

Sybil declared, "On May 18, 1982, my new life began. I participated in a transitional living program through the Boston Center for Independent Living and moved into my very first apartment. It was on the third floor. Hallelujah!" (Sybil experienced mobility issues and eventually became a wheelchair user - but was thrilled with a third floor apartment). "At 2 pm on that day", she continued, "I had my first place and I will never forget that moment. I drank some Kalua to celebrate that I was able to go there all on my own."

During the next 30 years Sybil worked, volunteered, transported paperwork, became a disability access monitor, held a paying job (for $9 per hour) and "motored" around Boston, Lynn, Brookline and many other places like a bird let out of a cage. Sybil was 72 years old when she died and had lived independently in her own apartment with support services for most of her adult life. Her fiery spirit and passionate commitment for justice lives on. She wrote, "Over these years I have developed my own motto, I live on my own, I go out on my own, I go anywhere I want and I live dangerously!"

Sybil Feldman reminds us all of why we advocate for each child, every day - that they experience the dignity of risk in order that their dreams can someday come true. Let her spirit live on in each one of us.

Best wishes,

Rich signature


Rich Robison
Executive Director