I’m a part of something bigger and greater than my own struggles

September 22, 2016 | Frances Isbell

About a week ago [June 30, 2016], I attended a panel discussion on the disability rights movement, which featured a viewing of a documentary on the legacy of Pennhurst Asylum in Pennsylvania. The deinstitutionalization movement particularly resonates with me because, even though I have personally never experienced living in an institution, my greatest struggle as a person with a disability has always been accessing the services and supports I need to live independently. But more importantly, without those services, I too face the threat of institutionalization.

Although I already knew about the horrific history behind Pennhurst, what made this experience unique for me was the opportunity to hear first-hand from advocates who have dedicated their careers to closing Pennhurst and other mental health institutions like it. For most of my life, living in a small town in Alabama, I have often felt disconnected, or at least distanced, from the larger disability rights movement. But being here in D.C. as an AAPD intern, I’ve actually had the chance to meet many of the leaders I’ve read so much about, at the Pennhurst event but also at other disability rights events. For the first time, I feel like I’m a part of something bigger and greater than my own struggles. I have a history, an identity, and a culture as a person with a disability.

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Frances Isbell was a 2016 AAPD Summer Intern. She is from Gadsden, Alabama, and graduated summa cum laude in 2014 from Samford University with a degree in English and Political Science. She is currently a rising third-year law student and Dean’s Scholar at the University of Alabama School of Law. This summer, Frances interned with the Administration for Community Living at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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