Disabled fight to control lives

Excerpted from The State Journal Register, Springfield, IL March 16, 1998

By Lesley Rogers

Forced to spend most of her childhood in a state-run institution, Diana Braun vowed to someday help shut down the places she calls “jail houses.”

“When I first got there, they put you in a room. I kept trying to figure out why I was in the room,” recalled Braun, who has Down syndrome.

“They kept me in that room for 10 days before they moved me to the rest of the institution. There is no privacy, no privileges. I was put there for no reason.”

A growing national self-advocacy movement for people with developmental disabilities led to formation of the Springfield chapter of People First about five years ago. Braun has served as president for the past three years. The group is run by disabled people who raise money, balance the budget and conduct the monthly meetings.

The main goal of People First is to shut down residential facilities specifically for the developmentally disabled. They reason that most of those who have been institutionalized are capable of living on their own. “Those places do not give people the opportunity to break the barriers and have their freedom,” Braun said.