My name is Tucker Conley, and I am the chairperson-elect of Speaking Up For Us (www.sufumaine.org), Maine’s self-advocacy organization for adults living with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, or I/DD.

As someone living with a disability myself, I was very angry and frustrated when I read recent articles that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services failed to properly investigate (or didn’t investigate) thousands of abuse, neglect, etc., allegations involving people with disabilities.

The biggest question I have is: “Why aren’t people doing their jobs?” The fact that around 2,600 adults with I/DD were suffering abuse and/or other serious problems that weren’t being reported or investigated properly — not only by DHHS but also some providers and medical professionals — that makes me sick to my stomach.

Our voices (whether we can physically speak or not) are not being heard and we’re dying because of it. One thing that we all deserve in life is to feel safe, and it’s clear that many people with disabilities don’t.

At Speaking Up For Us, we know that however we came into this world, our lives have value. Notice I said, “lives”? I say this because a lot of times it’s assumed that people with disabilities can’t have a high quality of life.

There are things I’m not able to do myself, for which I need help, but I still hang out with my friends, do lots of walking, go to the gym, etc. My disability is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. People need to realize that we all have the same value and the same rights no matter what type of body we have.

I know that we, as a state, can do better! However, if Medicaid money is taken from the state as a way to change how things are done, that would be a big mistake because as people with disabilities, we want and need more choices and control over our lives, not less.

As human beings, we need to stop looking the other way when we see abuse and other horrible things happening to people (or even if we suspect it), because to do otherwise is to say that someone like me is “less than.” I’m not and we’re not.

Tucker Conley

Portland