- Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
It's not surprising that Peter Droese has been employed at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) for nine years. As an individual with a disability, Peter's life experience has guided him toward a career focused on advocacy. He's been a student ambassador to the USSR, an Eagle Scout, a medical librarian at MassHealth, a husband, a keynote speaker, and a father. Peter has been able to exceed the expectations of doctors and doubters and has become an advocate for people with disabilities who want to live life on their own terms.
His parents were his fiercest advocates, appearing before the school committee in their town when Peter was a child and couldn't walk. They were seeking assistance in accessibility services so their son could attend public school. A school board member told them, "We do not educate a vegetable." That ignorant comment didn't deter his family. Peter became one of the first students with a disability integrated into a public school before the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) mandated accommodations. His first piece of assistive technology - a typewriter. Thinking back on his life, Peter shared proudly, "I was a child of the disability civil rights movement."
The Droese family was always working toward providing their son with equity opportunities. "I am thankful for the services provided by Easter Seals when I was younger," he said. "I learned how to swim, and also helped me socialize with other kids." His time as a Boy Scout also allowed him to be a part of his community and break the preconceived notions others may have had. As a child, Peter didn't think anything of how local politicians were always posing with him. "I thought it was something that all kids got the opportunity to do," he laughed. He was always in the spotlight because his family never stopped working to create accessibility awareness. Over time his world and experiences began to come into focus. He reflected, "I got a deeper appreciation of how things were slowly improving."
Peter earned a Master's in Library Science from Simmons University. Working as a medical librarian at UMass Medical School for MassHealth, he had the opportunity to be the keynote speaker at the Special Library Association Conference in 2000, where the topic was how to serve disabled patrons from dependence to independence. He also co-authored an article on the role of medical librarians in health equity. In 2004, The article received the Daniel T Richards Prize for excellence in Collection Development from the Medical Library Association.
After a 12-year-career as a medical librarian, Peter chose to pivot his career to help people in the disability community. "Public service brought me to MRC," he said. "I wanted to be a voice and an advocate." He joined MRC and thought he might become a counselor for job seekers, helping them with their employment journey. Instead, he joined MRC's Disability Determination Services (DDS) team. DDS determines applicant eligibility for disability benefits, working with the federal social security administration. As a quality assurance specialist, he makes sure that an applicant's needs have been met based on program rules and guidelines. He also meets with policy experts throughout the state and New England region to ensure MRC stays current with trends and updated policies.
Each day offers Peter the opportunity to create access and advocate for equity. "My initials are PWD (Peter William Droese); it also stands for a person with a disability," he laughed. "It's part of my identity. Working with people who also have a disability can help give them comfort and help them focus on their strengths. There may be a lot of people with a disability now or sometime in their life, and they need to know that support and resources are available to live life on their own terms."