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A group of Harwood Union students received the third annual Deborah Lisi-Baker Leader of Tomorrow Award for producing the documentary Speak Out For Understanding. The students were honored on July 26 at a celebration for the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The 18th birthday of the act was celebrated on Saturday at the Vermont State House.
The Harwood students who received the award also appear in the documentary, which looks at what life is like for people with disabilities. The documentary seeks to promote communication, awareness and equity for people with disabilities.
On hand to accept the award were students Emma Wade of Waitsfield, Grace Kirpan of Moretown, Tucker Sargent of Warren and Abby Zarotny of Waitsfield. Maureen Charron-Shea, a speech language pathologist at Harwood who is Speak Out for Understanding's project guru, also attended.
"At its heart," said Charron-Shea, "Speak Out for Understanding is about the power of individual stories to bring about change. These students have taken on the challenge of not just accepting a label, but rather becoming empowered through knowledge of self."
Wade, a senior at Harwood, spoke about how the project began and about how it evolved: "We began as a group of diverse students, a speech pathologist, and a professional videographer in a public school conference room. We were all just people consumed in our own responsibilities and our own human experience. We were each living separate lives but not necessarily independent or conscious lives. With a common reality and concern, we found the power of truth . . . being true is the key to acceptance of all people for each and every disability and more importantly, every ability."
The VCIL board of directors created the Deborah Lisi-Baker Leader of Tomorrow Award in honor of the disability rights organization's executive director and emerging leaders in the independent living movement.
Prior to handing out the award, Lisi-Baker said, "It is my great pleasure to be presenting this award not to one individual but to a group of individuals who are changing the world we live in and helping to build a better and more inclusive future for all of us."
Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to prohibit discrimination, in all aspects of society, against people with disabilities. The law has been in the national spotlight recently as Congress considers amendments that would expand narrow court interpretations that have restricted ADA coverage in the workplace for people with disabilities.