Cheryl Chan addressed the crowd of 300 people on Autism Advocacy Day, speaking about Nicky’s Law. For those who were unable to attend this year we share her speech with a plea that we all work together to make this piece of legislation LAW.
Thank you to the members of AFAM for having me here today. This is not the first time I’ve addressed this gathering, and it’s always such an honor for me. Today, though, I’m not very happy about standing here.
That’s because I was asked to talk about Nicky’s Law, currently known as House bill 101 and Senate bill 71. This bill establishes a registry of care providers substantiated of abuse of an individual with autism or intellectual and developmental disabilities within the DDS system. The bill will prevent serial abuse against citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities, a population that is rising in both number and need.
Nicky’s Law was introduced after I wrote a letter in 2014 to Senator Moore following the beating of my son Nicky multiple times in his day program; a traumatic nightmare for my non-verbal, vulnerable son that continues to affect his life, my life, my husband’s life, our daughter’s life, and the lives of everyone who knows this story.
This may be dubbed “Nicky’s Law” but I could spend the rest of today redubbing it with the names and stories of hundreds I know by heart.
Nicky’s Law is now in its second formal legislative session; meaning, we are now in the second year of introducing this legislation to our leaders in the Commonwealth. Meaning, it failed last year, in both the formal and informal sessions when AFAM, The Arc and multiple community stakeholders continued to push for the vote. The disability community demonstrated an unprecedented level of unity and contributed thousands of voices to the advocacy efforts through phone calls, emails and face to face visits. During this advocacy effort, legislators heard some of the most appalling stories of abuse against citizens with disabilities that count among the THOUSANDS reported ANNUALLY in Massachusetts.
“This is a no-brainer” was the cry of every person we spoke to about Nicky’s Law.
We hoped due to the critical nature of this issue and registries which exist in other states, and with the extraordinary responses by legislators in support of the bill, we could see it pass in its first session. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill.
We found out late in the session that there were some who felt our bill was unfair to those who worked in the field, although due process had been an important consideration and had already been carefully incorporated into the bill’s final draft. That was enough to cause a last-second derailing of a possible vote in the House during the informal session in December.
The takeaway for those who had spent the last 2 years advocating and making their voices heard was that it’s more important to protect abusers than it is to protect those we love. It was a terrible blow to everyone.
So, here we are again. Each day this law isn’t passed someone who has already been substantiated for abuse will do it again. Each day is not a question of if but when someone who has no way to defend themselves will be beaten, robbed, or assaulted. Every time it happens is a long-term trauma that affects every individual citizen, their families, and the entire community.
Among the consequences, families are losing trust in a system that they must rely on, because they look at every person as a potential abuser instead of a loving caregiver, even though there are far more loving, committed caregivers.
This bill, as effective as it will be when it becomes law, is only a first step in what we hope after a period of implementation will be a registry across human services, expanded to protect more populations including the elderly and those who suffer with mental health disorders.
We now have a chance again to gain passage of this bill. Together we can make it happen. We know that we have over 100 legislative co-sponsors for this bill in this session.
I’m angry and the community is angry, but we got some great news about the budget yesterday, right?! So while we need to voice our gratitude to our legislators for that, we have to keep fighting for this bill;
Because this bill is not about services or supports, this bill is about souls.