Earlier this week we all remembered the tragedy of Sept. 11 2001. This horrific day affected everyone across the country. We are still occupying Afghanistan to prevent factions with similar designs of the United States from reestablishing a national foothold to support their terror.
It is also a time of painful remembrance for those who knew people killed in those attacks.
Our community remembers Colleen Fraser.
Colleen was chair of the Council on Developmental Disabilities when I came to work for them in 1994. The council had recently gone through an upheaval. The focus had shifted from an agency not just connected to the state Department of Human Services and its Division of Developmental Disabilities as an administrative convenience, but philosophically and programmatically in lock step with the state in violation of the spirit and letter of the federal legislation governing the nation’s councils on DD.
I believe Colleen might have been the Council’s first chair with a disability. If not, readers please correct that for us. In any case her tenure oversaw a time when the Council’s membership and leadership evolved significantly. And she presided over one of the Council’s most significant advocacy efforts of the 1990’s—the call for and support of the closure of North Princeton Developmental Center.
Although Colleen had stepped down as chair by the time the facility was closed, she served as the chair during several of those tumultuous years prior to the Whitman Administration’s decision to close NPDC and into the first year of planning the closure. Those earlier years were filled with strong, often contentious advocacy, to get institutional closure into the public discourse and make the case for it. The focus at that point, promoted in large part by advocates like Colleen, was on the people who lived there and the damage continued institutionalization was doing to them. Arguments for sound public policy, national trends, fiscal responsibility, crumbling infrastructure, were all being discussed as well. But the primary necessity for Colleen and other advocates with disabilities and their colleagues was the well-being and rights of people who lived in the state’s developmental centers.
Remember, at that time Mary Kay Weber, former vice chair of the Council, was a resident at North Princeton. It’s really unbelievable to think that people we know and work with once lived in institutions and that there are still thousands living there now in New Jersey.
So I thought it was a good time remember what Colleen did with her life before she died too soon, too horribly. Remember that the work she did on behalf of people with developmental and other disabilities is ongoing. Remember how long it took to get the state moving on closing DC’s and remember how long it took to come back to it now with the current Two-DC closure plan, announced but yet to be fullfilled.
If Colleen were hear she’d be asking to see the plans, see the timetable, be kept apprised of each stage of the progress. She’d want to keep in everyone’s consciousness that there are real people involved. They’ve been waiting. They’re still waiting.
This is what she’d want us to remember during this week of remembrance. That it’s up to us now to do it for her, and for them