Rallying for the Rights of People with Intellectual Disabilities

Listen online to the new radio documentary and series by students at Uni High School.


A new University Laboratory High School student documentary, A Place in the Community: Rallying for the Rights of People with Intellectual Disabilities, and a companion radio series look at the challenges for people with intellectual disabilities in Illinois, from mistreatment and neglect in institutions to fighting for job and income equality.

Students in Uni’s class of 2017 interviewed 14 advocates, parents and policy makers about the experiences of people with intellectual disabilities from the 1940s to the present.

Uni student producers Lara Orlandic, Anna Kanfer and Gloria HaFormer Uni High student Lara Orlandic was a teenager who loved her growing independence when she co-produced the radio documentary about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“I absolutely loved getting my driver’s license, cooking for myself and doing other activities that made me independent from my parents,” said Orlandic, now a student at Georgia Tech. Making the documentary made her realize the extent to which people with intellectual disabilities wanted to live as independently as possible, just as she did, she said.

“I guess it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me that all people, regardless of whether they have intellectual disabilities, want to be able to make decisions affecting their lives,” she said.

Other student producers were Anna Kanfer and Gloria Ha. Ha said she was particularly moved by an interview with Katherine Hamann of Palos Heights. “She didn’t know she had an older sister living in an institution until she was 12, and didn’t meet her until she was 20,” Ha said. The situation wasn’t unusual in the 1950s when secrecy and shame often surrounded intellectual disabilities. Hamann became her sister’s guardian, got involved with advocacy groups, and now helps individuals with intellectual disabilities become more integrated into the community. “Her sweet stories about spending time with and speaking up for her sister, juxtaposed with her descriptions of the terrible living conditions in the institutions, really fleshed out my understand of how life was for people with intellectual disabilities 60 years ago,” said Ha, now a student at California Institute of Technology.

Ellen Lindsey and son JoeyJanet Morford, the Uni teacher who directed the documentary and series along with WILL’s Dave Dickey, said today it’s very rare for families to put loved ones in institutions. “Instead, parents are raising children at home and public schools are providing services for children with special needs. The tricky point comes when the person with an intellectual disability turns 22,” she said.

For those over the age of 22, no laws guarantee their employment, Ha said. “This leaves parents and children at a loss,” she said.  “Also, monetary support for families is limited, as is residential housing, so there are lotteries and waitlists with tens of thousands of people. There is a lot of progress to be made, but thanks to the many people who care deeply about the issue, things are changing.”

Those interviewed were Amy Armstrong, Joyce Dill, Katherine Hamann, Judith Heumann, Jennifer Knapp, Ellen Lindsey (above right with son Joey), Dale Morrissey, Vicki Niswander, Barbara Pritchard, Sue Suter, Vickie Tolf, Linda Tortorelli, John Trach and Tim Welsh.