POSITIVELY NAPERVILLE: Community to Lose Great Advocate and Leader

I want to acknowledge a tremendous community leader and fierce advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Shortly after taking office in 2015, I was contacted by Cindi Swanson. She asked how I, as a newly-elected lawmaker, planned to work on behalf of the developmentally disabled community. As I listened to her and learned about the struggles these families face on a daily basis, I was convinced that this population needs a strong legislative voice in Springfield and I would help fill that role.

With Cindi’s help, less than two months later District 41’s Developmental Disabilities Task Force (DDTF) was formed. Our group started out small, but today it includes almost two dozen parents, developmentally disabled adults, medical professionals, representatives from organizations like Little Friends, Ray Graham and ARC of Illinois, and special education professionals from local school districts.

The DDTF meets quarterly, and I mostly listen during these gatherings. Members outline problems and together we determine possible legislative solutions. Cindi Swanson is always an integral part of every discussion, fierce with her advocacy and undeterred by government bureaucracy. We have, and continue to do, great work. We successfully helped a member change Naperville’s municipal code as it relates to residential care or group homes for adult disabled people. By allowing separate residential living space to be attached to residential care homes, adults living with developmental disabilities in Naperville can live more fulfilling and independent lives in close proximity to their families.

Much of our work is also dedicated to addressing a workforce crisis for direct service providers (DSPs), and I have championed legislation in Springfield to increase wages for these underpaid caregivers. HB 2148, which would increase wages for these frontline workers, currently has 23 bipartisan sponsors. I also recently played “Undercover Boss,” as I accompanied a constituent to a local DHS office, so I could witness and blow the whistle on appalling inadequacies with how the State of Illinois serves disabled people through DHS offices.

Sadly, Cindi Swanson is moving out of Illinois this fall. Her advocacy and determination truly exemplify all that is good about our community. I believe that lawmakers have a primary responsibility of caring for those who cannot care for themselves, and that a state’s success can be measured by how well it takes care of its vulnerable populations. With Cindi’s help, discussions about proper care for the developmentally disabled are not minimized in Springfield. That mission will continue. I’ll make sure of it.