Mary and Opal – Joplin, Missouri – “For the first time in her life she had friends, not just family.”
In 1992 I became the guardian of my 54 year old sister, Opal. My mother had a stroke and could no longer care for Opal. Opal had been diagnosed with an intellectual disability, but I knew she was smart. Every day she reached new heights in vocabulary and other areas. We tested her at the Joplin Regional Center and she was diagnosed with Autism. She received auditory training to help limit auditory distractions so she could concentrate better. She was also diagnosed as being legally blind. Despite her disabilities she was able to attend the Jasper County day program. It was the first time in her life that she was able to be independent in the community. She loved it! After a year in the day program and volunteering in the community, she got a job at the Joplin Sheltered Workshop. WOW!!! What a day that was. She was so happy. She would say, “Everybody’s got to work to make a living.” My mother and I were filled with pride on the day Opal left for work! For twelve years she was a faithful employee, even though we lived outside of public transportation. I drove Opal to and from work; making two round trips, which is approximately 100 miles a day. She loved her job and looked forward to going each day. She loved the peers she worked with and they loved her as well. She always received compliments from her peers on her apparel, a new bow in her hair, or for something. For the first time in her life she had friends, not just family.
The saddest day of our lives had to be when Joplin Workshop announced they were downsizing and Opal would be laid off. Even though that was several years ago, she still says she needs to go to work to make a living. I am so happy she had the opportunity to work. Without the ADA it would not have been possible.
Today Opal is 76 years old. We are twenty two years down the road and while she is basically healthy, her vision has diminished and old age has begun to set in on both of us. We now have home aids coming in to help us. Nevertheless, we are in our home; living a full and happy life.
I believe the ADA, and the exposure it creates, helps people with disabilities to be accepted and received in the communities where they live.
If I were to change anything it would be:
1. Transportation for people living in rural communities.
2. Help purchasing needed items for adults.