Newsline Volume 33, Number 4

Visions of Community 2013

Keynote Speakers Brian Heffernan and Thomas Hehir
Keynote Speakers Brian Heffernan and Thomas Hehir

On Saturday, March 9, 2013, the Federation held its annual Visions of Community Conference at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. The statewide conference was attended by more than 900 parents and professionals, making this year's event the largest gathering of its kind in the history of the organization. The day-long program offered participants a dynamic keynote presentation, opportunities to network with other parents and professionals, resources from more than 80 exhibitors, in addition to 44 breakout sessions with offerings on special education, health, parent support, and more presented in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Somali, and Vietnamese.

The day began with a welcome from the Federation's Executive Director Rich Robison, who acknowledged the large turnout less than 24 hours after a major winter storm had hit the Boston area.

He expressed hope that participants could feel, "A different atmosphere when you come through these doors, you are no longer in isolation, sometimes struggling with issues of family and access and other types of concerns, here you're among friends. You'll find that you can learn from each other, enjoy each other, and sometimes find some humor that other people don't always quite get, when you talk about some of the things that are quite special about your particular child." Dr. Robison went on to describe the history of the Federation's work with parents and families. "Generally what we find is that families are resilient and resourceful, and when we equip them with information, opportunity and a vision of what can be, they really thrive."

Federation friend, singer/songwriter Randall Kromm moved the crowd with a heartfelt performance of a song he wrote about the impact his daughter with special needs has had on his life. This was the 2nd year Mr. Kromm had performed at the conference. Randall also took time to play music in the childcare room as well as performing a lunchtime set in the Exhibition Hall.

With a standing room only gathering in the Amphitheater, and an overflow crowd in an adjacent ballroom, the attendees were inspired by a dynamic keynote presentation from Harvard professor, former Director of the US Dept. of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, and author, Dr. Thomas Hehir and student, self-advocate Mr. Brian Heffernan. The gentlemen presented on the importance and reality of systemically changing schools to be fully inclusive. The participants were entertained by the rapport and humor the duo displayed as Dr. Hehir spoke of the important principles of inclusion and Brian responded to each with his real-life implementation of those principles. As Brian completed his talk on graduating high school after writing a thesis on the Titanic, Dr. Hehir stated, "One of the principles that Brian exemplifies so much is the importance of allowing kids, whether they have disabilities or not, to pursue their interests; the things that really engage them in school, and it will be different. People often assume that those with intellectual disabilities have the same interests - they don't! Brian has pursued the things that interested him in high school, and high school should be a wonderful time for every kid." Brian's confidence and life experiences left the participants with a sense of hope and inspiration as they moved on to enjoy the remainder of the day.

Mass State Agency CommissionersThe conference continues to be supported by many local and state agencies which were represented by many levels of staff. Some gave greetings to the morning assembly, others presented entire 90 minute break out sessions, and still others manned exhibit tables for participants to learn more about accessing services through programs supported by the various agencies. Federation Board member Debbie Allen brought greetings from the Boston Public Health Commission and the Project Launch/My Child program which co-sponsored the event. Ms. Allen encouraged Boston residents in the audience, to visit the Project Launch exhibit table to become involved in advising the BPHC around areas of children with special health care needs. Deputy Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Dr. Alan Ingram shared his personal experience of being a parent of a child with special needs and expressed how important it is for our educational systems to be responsive to the needs of all children.

Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services Commissioner Elin Howe offered that while there is still work to do, more children than ever are receiving support through a variety of programs. She further went on to say that the Department is committed to improving its services and programs, including helping families better prepare for the transition from entitlement of educational services to the world of adult services. Outgoing Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families Angelo McClain expressed his sincere appreciation for the relationship his Department has enjoyed with the Federation over his years in public service and how much he values the work of the organization. Also in attendance were Asst. Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services Robert Turillo, and Ron Benham, Director of the Family Health and Nutrition Bureau at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. State Director of Special Education Marcia Mittnacht presented a morning workshop which highlighted State Advisories on Suspension and Transition, while Madeline Levine, Director of the Office of Tiered Systems of Support (TSS) at DESE, provided a session focused on an overview of TSS for parents.


View photo gallery, video of our keynote speakers, or download handouts from many of the workshops at