News  46th Annual Legislative Reception Held at the Massachusetts State House

In Recognition of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, the MDDC and The Arc of Massachusetts held their Annual Legislative Reception, bringing together nearly 400 advocates and lawmakers.
  • Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council
The Great Hall, a brick room with a glass ceiling and hundreds of flags hung.

The 46th Annual Legislative Reception: Reaffirming our Commitment to Those In Need

On Wednesday, March 6, nearly 400 advocates gathered at the Massachusetts State House to celebrate the 46th Annual Legislative Reception. Held by The Arc of Massachusetts (The Arc) and the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council (MDDC), this year’s theme was “Reaffirming Our Commitment to Those in Need.”

This year’s theme focused on the continued need to stand and advocate for those individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and autism who remain in the strongest need, with thousands going unserved or underserved for nearly four years now due to the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

As done in the past, MDDC and The Arc both named two Massachusetts congress members as their Legislators of the Year. This year, Senator Joanne M. Comerford was honored by MDDC, and Representative John J. Lawn, Jr. was honored by The Arc for their commitment to our communities.

Senator Comerford, a caucasian woman with light brown and gray hair wearing a blue and green shirt stands at a podium speaking while holding a blue envelope.
Senator Comerford presenting her remarks, holding a copy of the blue envelope that is a part of the Blue Envelope Bill

MDDC’s choice, Sen. Comerford, is currently serving as the Assistant Vice Chair of Senate Ways and Means. Sen. Comerford is the champion of the Blue Envelope Bill, which aims to make traffic stops safer for drivers who experience autism. This bill passed the Senate in January of this year. Her continued support of key policies promotes the health, safety, self-determination, and independence of people with IDD.

Senator Comerford, a caucasian woman with light brown and gray hair wearing a blue and green shirt stands holding a white framed painting of a vase of flowers with Betty Antoine, a Black woman wearing a black and pink floral patterned shirt and a gray beanie
Senator Comerford and artist Betty Antoine holding the artwork that was presented to the Senator.

Each honoree was presented with a piece of artwork created by self-advocates. Sen. Comerford received a painting by Betty Antoine, who works with Gateway Arts, and Rep. Lawn received a painting by Dominic Killiany. Self-advocate Patrick Linehan created the drawing that could be seen on the front cover of the event program.

Amir Harper, a Black man with black twisted hair wearing a black shirt and glasses sits next to Lauren Beckham Falcone, a caucasian woman with blonde hair wearing a turquoise and black shirt and black belt.
Amir Harper and Lauren Beckham Falcone co-emceed the event.

This year’s reception was co-emceed by Lauren Beckham Falcone, WROR radio host and mother of a daughter who experiences Down syndrome, and Amir Harper, a high school senior with autism, who, fun fact, was recently accepted into Berklee College of Music.

Raquel Quezada, a Latina woman wearing a powder blue dress with a spider brooch and glasses stands at a podium speaking.
MDDC Chairperson Raquel Quezada presenting her opening remarks.

MDDC Chairperson Raquel Quezada was present to give the event’s opening remarks. Quezada shared her experiences as a woman from the Dominican Republic, and as a mother of a child with a disability, and called upon our communities to take action. “Our commitment to inclusivity and equality must be unwavering. It is incumbent upon us, especially policymakers, to ensure that the voices of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are not only heard but also actively included in the decision-making process that shapes their lives,” said Quezada.

Mary McGeown, a white woman with light brown hair wearing a white shirt and blazer and glasses stands at a podium speaking.
EOHHS Human Services Undersecretary Mary McGeown presenting the proclamation.

Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) Undersecretary Mary McGeown was in attendancee to present Governor Maura Healey’s proclamation of March 2024 as Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. 

Heidi Robbins, a caucasian woman with blonde hair wearing a black blazer and glasses stands speaking at a podium.
Parent advocate Heidi Robbins was this year's keynote speaker.

This year’s keynote speaker was Heidi Robbins, an advocate and mother to a 22-year-old with autism, an intellectual disability, and a seizure disorder. Heidi discussed the difficulty of finding programs and support for her son, who turned 22 during the pandemic. "The impact and timing of the pandemic and Ben's transition to 22 were significant. The clock was ticking.  There were no residential programs and the availability of day, transportation and group home options were uncertain due to workforce crisis,” said Robbins. She shared her experience as the sole provider for her family, facing the challenges that came at her head-on while still standing by what was right. “Advocacy will continue for Ben to ensure his model of care includes life skills, safety awareness, exercise, and leisure and community activities. And most importantly of all that he is valued as a person and an individual and Ben is able to live his most meaningful life. Isn’t that what we all want?” she added.

Michael Barrett, a caucasian man with short white hair wearing a blue and black shirt and black blazer stands at a podium speaking.
Senator Michael Barrett provided the introduction for 2024 Legislator of the Year Senator Jo Comerford.

Senator Michael Barrett, a two-time recipient of the Legislator of the Year award provided the introduction for Sen. Comerford. 

A group of legislators stand in front of a banner with the MDDC, Arc and event logos.
Previous Legislators of the Year who were present were presented with lapel pins signifying their work and recognition.

New to this year’s program was the presentation of lapel pins to our previous Legislators of the Year in recognition of their standing as Disability Legislative Champions. This pin, designed by the MDDC, features the iconic State House Dome in the colors of each co-host's logos, with the title “Disability Legislative Champion.” Now, these legislators are easily recognizable as individuals committed to bettering our communities.

Two men and a woman standing in front of a backdrop, one man is holding a crystal award.
MDDC Executive Director Craig Hall and Chairperson Raquel Quezada presented former Executive Director Daniel Shannon an award in recognition of his years of service.

We were also lucky to have been able to honor former MDDC Executive Director Daniel M. Shannon, who spent nearly 30 years working in disability advocacy. Shannon, who retired in 2023, played a key role in making the Council that we know today, being an instrumental part of the merger of the DDC and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities in the 1990s. When asked prior to the event what advice he has for young and emerging leaders, Shannon said "It’s not about the leader, it’s about the people who will benefit from positive change. Talk little, listen more. Don’t seek the spotlight, seek results. Recognition will come in time.”

Maura Sullivan, a caucasian woman with auburn hair wearing a dark blue dress stands at a podium speaking.
The Arc of Massachusetts' Deputy Executive Director Maura Sullivan closed the program out with an inspiring call to action.

At the close of the program, The Arc’s Deputy Executive Director Maura Sullivan provided a call to action for our community members. “This community is indefatigable in spirit but I know there is exhaustion out there, and for many there is fear. When will this crisis be over?” Sullivan said. “Are you all ready to talk to your elected officials? They need to hear from you. If they don’t get back to your calls or your e-mails, don’t get angry and give up. You to keep following up. Don’t take it personally: just keep going,” she added.

Thank you to everyone who was in attendance, or viewed the livestream of this year’s reception. As our theme says, both the MDDC and The Arc will be committed to bettering the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, one day at a time. Though the progress may not be as fast as we may wish, our fight will not stop in the face of small defeats, and our wins will forever push us toward our goals.

Likewise, thank you to our extensive list of event co-sponsors, as well as Community Work Services (CWS) for providing refreshments for our events. Founded in 1877, CWS helps people who face barriers to work obtain employment and achieve self-sufficiency through innovative job training, placement, and support services.

As we carry on in this Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Awareness month, we encourage you to make yourself known, and share your thoughts with lawmakers. As Sen. Comerford said in her acceptance speech, “That's the power of legislative advocacy days like this. My colleagues get to see what you need, how you need it, what we should do, & then we join with great administration officials & try to make the Commonwealth a place where everyone can thrive." To find your legislators, visit here.


  • Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Council 

    The MDDC is an independent agency, funded by the federal government, dedicated to empowering people with developmental disabilities and their families to enjoy full productive lives by promoting self-sufficiency, community inclusion & opportunity.
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