Meg Ulbricht was the Honored Guest at the 23rd Annual Puget Sound Buddy Walk on October 6, 2019. For those who missed her wonderful speech, the following is a transcript:
Hello, my name is Meg Ulbricht and I have Down syndrome for life. I am a lifelong learner and self-advocate. First I would like to talk about my experiences with inclusion, at school, work, and in other groups.
I started out in Montessori School at age two, and then was mainstreamed in public school. There was a lot of inclusion in the Renton school district when I was there. Several of my heroes are teachers. One is Dutch Day who was my “US Government” and “Contemporary World Issues” teacher at Renton High, who gave me a chance to be in his class after I advocated for myself. Another was Gordon Knight who taught World History at Dimmitt Middle School. He helped me write a great report on Germany with the resources he gave me. The other was Glenda Bryant, my sixth grade teacher. She gave me my love for Roman and Greek mythology. She was my best friend, and I had many conversations with her. I was her teaching assistant in eighth grade.
I have had jobs with more inclusion, and less inclusion. There was full inclusion in my internship at Valley Medical Center, in the food services department; in my first paid job as a dishwasher and re-stocking the salad bar; and my current job, at ShoWare, a hockey arena where I am a food prep chef. I work as a team member and leader, helping train new employees.
Then there were jobs where all the workers were people with disabilities. One was my internship in horticulture. Another job, I was part of a team that assembled boxes in an automated warehouse. We were paid piecework, below the minimum wage, but I loved the teamwork and camaraderie.
When we moved to Boston in 2005, we needed a family. My father, mother, and I joined the Community of Sant’Egidio, consisting mostly of graduate students in their late 20’s to early 30’s. We were with them several days a week, caring for poor and elderly people, praying, and celebrating. I never felt different, and I made many close friends. I went to Italy with them twice.
In Boston I also had close connections at the ARC, with people who do have disabilities. My box-making job and my Special Olympics basketball team were through the ARC. I was an officer of self-advocacy groups and lobbied at the Massachusetts state capitol.
I have always loved office work, but have not yet had a paid office job. I have had numerous volunteer office jobs, from student aide, to youth groups and churches, and most recently Korean Womens Association, called KWA. In all those jobs I was working with the general population. At KWA I did have a job coach, and I was trained in Clear Care, a software system for case managers, care givers, and clients. I used software to create labels for the file folders and shredded sensitive documents. It was also fun to hear a new language and taste their cultural food treats.
The Access bus is a great tool for community involvement, but it can be limiting, so I have been trained to ride several Metro bus routes, and learned some by myself It’s fun to be out on my own.
Through Kent Parks and Recreation, I have classes, trips, Special Olympics sports, a weekly dance, and most of all, close friends in the Adaptive Recreation program.
I love to travel. I have visited at least 34 states, and Canada, Italy, and most recently the Bahamas.
I have always been active in my church. Since my confirmation I have been a Lector about once a month, reading the scriptures to the congregation. At the lector training sessions, I learn to get better at my ministry. I felt honored to be asked to do a reading at my Grandma’s funeral mass. Another great privilege was sponsoring Ikkey Cruz for his Confirmation.
As a junior in high school, I spent a week in Olympia learning about our government first hand. As a senior, I joined a political party. I have caucused and helped with campaigns. I have participated in self-advocacy in many ways.
The Down Syndrome Community of Puget Sound has been an important part of my life since its beginning. While the grownups met, I played with Stephen and Evan and Brian and all the other founding children. I loved Camp Prime Time, with s’mores and singing and fishing and horseback riding and the big dinner gong. Later there was Megarama Day where everyone can have fun, experience the Wild West and enjoy the setting where cowboy movies were made.
I believe that the Buddy Walk is about being buddies for life with one another, and also with people who do not share our Down syndrome, so that we can teach them who we are and what we need. When I bring my nephew or my neighbor to the Buddy Walk, they get to meet people they might never meet, people who demand respect, and will keep fighting for change.
The Buddy Walk is also a major fundraiser that makes the other programs and events possible. So go to the Buddy Walk website and contribute some more!
I would like to conclude with the Special Olympics athlete’s oath. It is a good motto to live by. “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”