Betty Williams in Junior High School
Betty Williams in Jr. High School


Betty Williams grew up in Richmond, Indiana in the 1960s and 70s. She became a state and national leader in the self-advocacy movement before Barack Obama appointed her to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities in 2014. Interviewed in 2016, she remarked that most people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) are just looking to receive “decent pay” and “to be able to do the jobs that are important to them in our communities.” They desire affordable housing “and to be able to buy your own house if that's what you want.” Although for many people with IDD these goals are still unmet, Williams’ comments illustrate how possibilities have opened and expectations have risen.

Within Williams’ lifetime, Hoosier institutions were bursting at the seams. Then they shrank and closed completely. Deinstitutionalization led to new housing options. Some of those options resembled, on a smaller scale, the institutions their occupants had left behind. A broad array of community-based services developed as thinking about disability evolved and government funding shifted away from congregate care. Legislators enacted laws to realize the educational potential of children with disabilities, ensure equality in the workplace, and require accessibility in the built environment. 

More recently, creative, individualized supports provided models for innovation in employment, living arrangements and beyond. The promise, if not the reality, of a self-determined life had arrived. Meanwhile, as Indiana celebrated its 200th anniversary, families and community agencies struggled to make do with dwindling allocations of public resources. Renewed efforts to disassemble the Americans with Disabilities Act were on the horizon, and disability advocates could not take for granted their hard-won recognition of civil rights.