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Remarks from Peter Berns at Disability Day of Mourning 2019

As the CEO of a disability rights organization, as a parent, and as a human being – I regret that we have to gather today.   This is a difficult, but important, day to be a part of. Thank you to the Autistic Self Advocacy Network for holding this annual vigil.

Nearly every year, I have hope that this will be the last time we will need to gather to honor those killed. After all, we’ve come so far in the disability rights movement. But not far enough on so many issues, and none graver than filicide.

We are here today to remember and mourn the loss of more than 650 individuals in the past 5 years – including more than 70 in the last year alone.

Words matter. We are here today talking about murder. Any attempt to call it something else — to sugar coat the act of a parent, family member, or caregiver who kills or attempt to kill an individual with intellectual or developmental disabilities is wrong. Filicide is never acceptable or justified.

When it comes to the media coverage of these murders, too often we see reporters painting a picture of a struggling parent with no alternatives. Portraying a case of filicide that way misrepresents what really took place, and that is a crime of the most heinous nature.    When we see that type of misleading news coverage, we need to stand together and call it out in the clearest terms. The victims deserve no less.

The Arc, ASAN, and many others in this room and at vigils across the country tonight continue to work to change public perception of people with disabilities. We educate the public and the media on disability rights and help them abandon the misconceptions and stereotypes, that individuals with disabilities are suffering, and that they are burdens on their family and society.   We need to stand together and affirm the value of their lives and uphold their contribution to enriching life in our communities.

We need more people to join with us, and advocate for a society that is equal and just for people with disabilities. And so we carry on in this effort, and honor those lost this past year.

Thank you for letting me be here on behalf of The Arc and our network.

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