When the Director of the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC) left in 1995, John Chappell was the agency representative on the Council from the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC). After some discussion with other Council members and with Commissioner Bartels of MRC, Chappell was asked to become the temporary Director. As such, sometime in the early fall Chappell started spending 3 to 4 days a week at MDDC and 1 to 2 days a week at MRC. Chappell was the acting Director of the MDDC, while also retaining his responsibilities at MRC.
Chappell’s early days at the Council were uneventful. But things suddenly changed in late 1995 when the then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, Charlie Baker, announced that he was going to consolidate all of the disability agencies into one large mega-agency, in an attempt to save the Commonwealth dollars. This new agency would absorb the Department of Mental Health (DMH), the Department of Mental Retardation (DMR), the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH) and the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind (MCB). Almost immediately there was major concern from the constituencies of the smaller agencies. They felt that their issues and specific needs would be lost in a mega agency where over 90% of the funds were going to fund services for those with intellectual disabilities.
The Council, though its staff and ultimately the Council members themselves, felt that those affected should be involved in determining whether or not their issues would be lost in a large bureaucracy. After meetings with Lorraine Greiff, the then-Director of the Massachusetts Office on Disability, Mary Lou Maloney from Regina Villa Associates, and staff of the Council, including Dan Shannon and Chappell, it was decided that the best way to determine what people with disabilities wanted was to hold a large, open meeting for all those affected and create an environment where they could express their feelings.
The final plan evolved to holding the open meeting at the Massachusetts Archive Building, near the Kennedy Library. Invitations went to all disability organizations, representing as many different disability constituencies as possible. On Friday, February 2, 1996, over 240 individuals representing many different disabilities came to the Archive Building. The meeting started with the group choosing individuals who would chair the meeting. The MDDC’s only job was to bring the group together; the rest including any outcomes of the meeting was up to those who were there.
At the end of the meeting, the group decided to choose a steering committee which would immediately begin to meet in the basement of the State House. They chose this location as the best place to get maximum visibility. The group chose Charlie Carr as its first Chair and also chose an executive committee.
In the six weeks following this meeting, the group organized a rally at the rotunda of the State House to demonstrate the dissatisfaction of the disability community on the proposed plan. The group told representatives loudly and clearly that they did not want the human services agencies to be combined.
We succeeded in defeating efforts to combine these agencies. Needless to say the sit-in worked; Secretary Baker rescinded his decision to combine all the agencies and through that single action the Disability Policy Consortium became a force in determining disability policy in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
This effort created a lot of positive energy in the disability community of Massachusetts. Some of the members decided that this coalition should not die just because it had served its original purpose. They wanted the disability community, particularly those served by MRC, MCDHH, and MCB, to speak with one strong voice on policy issues of common interest. Before 1996, advocates representing the interests of various disability groups tended to fight each other for very small amounts of money. Since 1989, MRC MCDHH and MCB had been level funded. The group hoped to change that trend by unifying behind issues of common interest.
Charlie Carr, DPC’s first Chair, named the group the Disability Policy Consortium. At that point, it was the goal of the DPC to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. DPC’s monthly meetings, which were held in the State House, were very democratic; the group made most of the decisions by consensus rather than majority vote. The group decided that the cornerstone of their efforts would take the form of annual budget campaigns.
Today, these budget campaigns, designed to monitor and advocate for properly funded services, are a crucial part of the operation of the DPC. The DPC also has a long history of endorsing various bills, which promote increased independence and improved quality of life for persons with disabilities.
The DPC also sought to open new lines of communication with the Commissioners of the three smaller disability agencies (MRC, MCDHH, and MCB), in order to make their beliefs concerning service funding known and to become more educated in the state's budgeting process. An early product of these lines of communications was "Agenda for the Future" 1999-2001: Independence for People with Disabilities through Goal-Directed Services." Known as the Blue Book, this document represented a collaborative effort between the three agencies and the DPC to outline service needs and goals and the funding necessary to make those goals a reality.
By the end of 1999, the DPC was a well-known voice for consumers of the three smaller agencies. Budget campaigns had yielded significant results and both consumers and state officials sought input from the DPC on important issues of the day. While DPC leaders concentrated on the populations served by the three smaller agencies, they dreamed of the day when the DPC would be a strong voice representing all persons with disabilities who reside in the Commonwealth. They weren't sure how they would get there, but they new where they wanted to go.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2010. Looking back, the DPC has made major strides since the end of 1999. The DPC can now proudly say that it represents all persons with disabilities residing in the Commonwealth. The DPC now has an office in Boston, (opened in 2005), a paid staff, and manages an annual budget of over $150,000. Accomplishments of the DPC range from increased funding for services and avoidance of budget cuts during times of crisis to a home modification program, improved accessibility at the state house, forums relative to the Olmstead Decision and work on emergency preparedness. The DPC continues to offer advocacy training designed to empower persons with disabilities to get the most out of life.
The DPC owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Mary Lou Maloney, Bill Allan, and the rest of the founders. Where once was found a disparate collection of persons with disabilities fighting over monetary crumbs, one now finds a vibrant organization which seeks common ground among all persons with disabilities and a strong voice for greater participation in all aspects of American society by persons with disabilities.