This week, we again paused to commemorate the life and legacy of a revolutionary figure. I had the privilege to speak at ARC of Rockland’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life. As some of you may know, I am a former ARC Foundation Board member and realize just how impactful Dr. King was in putting the spotlight on equal rights for people with disabilities.
Dr. King is most often remembered for the work he did desegregating the South and fighting for equality for African-Americans throughout the United States. But Dr. King’s vision of justice and equal rights included all human beings. He believed that equal opportunities should be available to people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicity, disabled or able-bodied.
Dr. King changed the way we think about equal rights. Including the way, we think about equal rights for people with disabilities. His pioneering efforts in the civil rights movement in the 1960s had a direct impact on the movement to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act years later. And that act, as we all know, has brought dignity, opportunity and purpose to so many lives.
Dr. King had a dream. Have we achieved everything that Dr. King dreamed? Not even close. But we are making progress. Organizations like ARC of Rockland, that provide support and services to more than 1,200 people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, show just how much progress we are making as we continue to pursue Dr. King’s dream.
Under my leadership Rockland County will work to continue this progress, advocating strongly for those with developmental disabilities and joining with them to foster a better understanding of what we can all accomplish when we work together.
As part of that goal in the 2019 budget, we have restored the Office for People with Disabilities (OPWD) which was eliminated as a separate department in 2007 and the Director retired in 2011 leaving the office defunct. The charge of the OPWD will be to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and to ensure they achieve access to all the rights and responsibilities they desire to exercise. They will advise and assist the County Executive’s office, the County Legislature and County agencies in developing policies designed to meet the needs of people with disabilities.
Our collective future is dependent on this progress; it may not be easily accomplished and, as much as I would like, it may not happen quickly. But I will leave you now with one thought from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
I will do everything in my power to further the vision of Dr. King. Together we will keep moving forward.