Leader: Betty Williams
Home State: Indiana
Betty Williams is a very well-known individual, not only in her local community, but also throughout Indiana, and on the national level. Betty is known for her determination and leadership, commitment to advocacy, but most importantly, she is recognized for making a positive difference in the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Betty Williams is the Consumer Education and Training Coordinator at The Arc of Indiana, a position she has held since 2006. Ms. Williams has served as Secretary of Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered since 2012 and as a Lay Member of the Indiana Developmental Disabilities Legislative Commission since 1998. She served as President of SABE from 2010 to 2012 and as President of Self Advocates of Indiana (SAI) from 2005 to 2010. As Past President of SAI, Betty was one of the first individuals that Darcus Nims, founder of SAI, sought out to join her with her advocacy efforts. Betty accompanied Darcus across the state to speak with and advocate on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Betty was actively involved in the efforts that closed Indiana’s state institutions, and advocated with Darcus for the people who were moving out of those institutions and into the community.
In 2014, Betty was appointed to the Presidents Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, bringing her advocacy experience and leadership to the national level where she works with others from across the nation to address the lifelong issues facing people with I/DD and their families. She continues her life’s work of advocacy in the disability movement through her leadership and commitment to the various committees and taskforces she serves on, as well as maintaining a continued presence in the community.
Betty has participated in numerous committees to help move Indiana towards a state that is known for inclusion and accessibility; she has served on numerous local, state, and national committees, both government and non-government related, as well as various committees comprised of other local leaders, such as herself. These committees include, Self-Advocates Becoming Empowered (National), Self-Advocates of Indiana, The Arc of Indiana’s Governmental Affairs Committee, the Indiana Division of Disability and Rehabilitative Services Advisory Committee, and the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community Consumer Advisory Committee to name a few.
Betty Williams shares her story with just about everyone she meets. She knew that the life she was living was not one that she would have chosen for herself, and in response she adopted the “I can, I will, and I should” attitude when all she would hear was “Can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t”. Her dedication to achieving her own independence, by speaking for her wants, needs, and “cans” led her to a job where she shares those skills with others through trainings, interviews, speaking engagements, and one-to-one peer support. There is not a person Betty has not met who has not been proud to know her as a colleague, but also a mentor. When Betty shares her story, her audience listens, and more often than not begins to feel comfortable enough to share their own story.
Betty has lead numerous training sessions and workshops for Self-Advocates to help develop public speaking skills, as well as other ways that Self-Advocates can communicate effectively and broadly within their own community. She keeps an open mind about communication techniques, and when she has a new idea immediately begins to put together a plan on how to implement it; when one hears Betty say “I have an idea, and I know what I want to do and what it will look like” one knows that a plan is already forming and she will begin to implement it to further her advocacy work and support and empower others as they find their voice. One of Betty’s most outstanding and longest lasting impact is her involvement in assisting with the closure of Indiana’s state institutions. She and other leaders of Self Advocates of Indiana, met with people with developmental disabilities who were living in state institutions to listen to their concerns about the future and help them understand the possibilities. By helping to close the state’s institutions, Betty has given people with disabilities in the opportunity to truly live, work, and play in their community. More recently, Betty has worked with the My Life, My Choice project to help individuals living in group homes and/or nursing homes explore community living options. Betty not only helped to develop the initial interview questions, but also conducted interviews with teams of self-advocates, as well as provided training to new interviewers as part of a training team.
By continuing to share her knowledge and leadership skills, Betty is providing the education and fundamental tools for self-advocates to advocate and be the change they wish to see in their community. Her continued participation in local, state, and national committees where she brings her knowledge and ideas to the table, help to get those around her thinking in terms of “I can” for everyone, and to ensure that no matter what, those initiatives are led by self-advocates. When Betty presents a new idea to continue advocacy, it always “Self-advocates can, will, and should be”, so that when change happens it happens through the leadership of the individual, not someone speaking on their behalf.