Attorney remembers Weicker as a champion of people with disabilities
Among the many plaudits spoken of former Connecticut Gov. Lowell Weicker Jr. since his death at the age of 92, is his legacy as a champion for people with disabilities.
Attorney David Shaw represented plaintiffs in a 1978 lawsuit over lack of quality care at a state-run school for people with disabilities, which ultimately resulted in the closure of that Mansfield Training Schoolin 1993. At the closing, Weicker said: “Nothing that has happened during the course of my being governor is more important than this day. Nothing.”
“I think most politicians are very careful not to tarnish their image in any way,” Shaw said. “I don't think Lowell Weicker really cared about that. He had a son with Down syndrome. He knew this population of people and how vulnerable they were.”
The Mansfield Training Facility housed around 1,900 people at the time of its closing. Shaw says his lawsuit against the facility, known as CARC v. Thorne, as well as his ongoing lawsuit against the still operational Southbury Training School, have resulted in all but just over 100 patients from the two facilities being transferred back into society.
Shaw says none of that could have happened without Weicker’s efforts — as a U.S. Senator — to lay the groundwork for what we now known as the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” That civil rights law passed just after Weicker left the Senate in 1989 and protects people with disabilities from discrimination.
“One hundred and twenty of the 1,500 people are still there (at Southbury),” Shaw said. “A federal judge ruled that they, by keeping them at Southbury Training School, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and ordered them to develop a plan to move people into community settings out of segregated institutions."
Shaw says politicians of today would do well to learn from Weicker’s legacy of independence.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Shaw said. “It's very rare to see a politician like him stick his neck out and really ... expose his career to perhaps being undermined because he's speaking what he thinks is the truth. We don't see, in this day and age, politicians with that kind of character.”