NuPath Board Member Carol Donovan has always had an affinity for helping men and women with disabilities.
As a special education teacher for 10 years and a special education chairperson for an additional four years, the Woburn native wanted to make sure her students saw everything the world had to offer them. “I did a lot with them,” she said. “I took my students out into the community and taught them everything they needed to know and succeed.”
Perhaps it’s this love and care she showed them that led her to being appointed on NuPath’s Board of Directors, a post she has held for close to 40 years. Her time on the Board began when the organization was formally known at CMARC.
“CMARC was fairly small at the time,” she said. “The services we provided were limited to only Middlesex County.”
Over the past decade, NuPath’s profile of services has grown and transitioned away from sheltered workshops into community-based job training, leading to the evolution of their Employment team.
Today, they oversee dozens of men and women who have found community employment thanks to the progressive work of the organization under President/CEO Dan Harrison’s leadership.
Donovan’s work with the developmentally disabled led to a 14-year career as a Massachusetts State Representative out of Woburn. As a Massachusetts delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1992, she had the opportunity to meet current Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton.
“We were impressed with Hillary’s genuine care for those with disabilities,” she said. “She went down to New Bedford to advocate for children with special needs being included in their school system because, at that time, none of them were enrolled.”
Donovan recently went to Philadelphia, site of the 2016 DNC, as a delegate for Clinton – the second time she had done so. This year’s Democratic nomination of Clinton was a moving moment for Donovan as she reflected back to the time of her grandmothers, who were Irish immigrants.
“They couldn’t vote until 1920 and I sat at the Convention, voting for a woman to be President,” she said, wearing and referencing the wedding ring from one of her grandmothers and the engagement ring from the other grandmother.
“Wearing my grandmothers’ rings to the Convention was emotional for me. It was really exciting to be there.”
Now the focus shifts towards the General Election on November 8 and Donovan is encouraging everyone involved with the organization to make their voices heard, especially the men and women being supported.
“We have to encourage everyone, staff and individuals alike, to research the information they need to register,” she said. “It’s important to get men and women of all abilities interested in voting, especially this year.”
According to the 2012 US Census, of the 126 million people that voted for President, 15.6 million identified themselves as having a disability. Respect Ability, in their own report on July 12, stated that one in five voters have a disability and over half of likely voters know someone with a disability.
Donovan was “pleasantly surprised” at the 15.6 million statistic and believes that number will grow this year if interest continues to build.
“If people with disabilities have the support from staff to learn and inform themselves, their presence will increase at the polls,” she said. “The more they are out in the community and listening to what people are saying, the more they will be interested.”
However, the former State Rep. offered some advice on choosing a candidate to best suit their respective interests. “Don’t base your position from what you see on TV,” Donovan said. “People have to watch the debates…and pay more attention to what the candidates are saying instead of the applause they receive from the audience.”
She also encouraged everyone to “do their own research and not be swayed by the opinions of others.”
Things have drastically changed in the 40 years that Carol Donovan has held the best interests of children and adults with disabilities. Gone are the days of workshops and inactivity, replaced by community integration and increased resources to maximize independence.
Yet, this is only the beginning. People with disabilities have the potential to make a significant impact in the 2016 Presidential election. The resources are in place to inform themselves and register to vote, something that was unthinkable back in 1976.
Donovan offered one last piece of advice for everyone as they begin to look towards the future.
“You have to ask yourself which of these candidates not only has my best interests in mind…but who will also will give me the greatest opportunity to lead the happiest, healthiest and most fulfilling life possible.”
“Take advantage of the opportunity that’s given to you and remember: Your vote counts!”