A Story of Strong Women Advocating for the Rights of the Developmentally Disabled

One of the most important aspects of our work is to illustrate how women in positions of political office can directly influence the next generation of female leaders.  This positive role-modeling effect is demonstrated through our PiP Youth nominees program--young women chosen by politicians who are exemplars of unfolding potential.  These young people are remarkable for their drive, talent, passion, intelligence, and conscience.  Below is an excellent example.  

Senator Gelser's nominee, Rachel, is clearly inspired to activism by her mentor's staunch civic-mindedness and community involvement.  Together, they are making an impact in Oregon.  Their story shows how women, separated by age, ethnic background, and life experiences, can work side by side for a better world.  Social values are not born in a vacuum.  These values are taught and demonstrated by those we look up to and love.  This continuum is what PiP will strive to support and promote in the future.  

Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser with her son at the abandoned Fairview Training Center in Salem, OR

Oregon State Senator Sara Gelser with her son
at the abandoned Fairview Training Center in Salem, OR

IN THEIR OWN WORDS...

Rachel Simpson- Age 23. Nominated by Senator Sara Gelser at her home in Independence, OR

Rachel Simpson- Age 23. Nominated by Senator Sara Gelser at her home in Independence, OR

Just as women should not be left to count on men to advocate their interests, women with disabilities must be supported to speak for themselves.

Fairview was Oregon’s last large institution for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  For nearly a century, people with disabilities were sent there to languish, separated from their families and society.  When my son was born with a disability in 1994, it was in the midst of the struggle to close the institution and support people to live in the community.  The stories from Fairview significantly impacted me as a young mother and inspired me to advocacy and politics.   

The full inclusion and equality of people with disabilities must extend to political life.  That’s why I’m so inspired by young leaders like Rachel, my PiP youth nominee.  Rachel is a powerful advocate in our state legislature, and regularly challenges the misguided assumptions and low expectations society still holds about people living with disabilities.  Rachel is an outspoken advocate for true equality and full inclusion.  By sharing her own story, she makes it clear that all people must have the authority to decide who they love, where and how they live, what kind of education to pursue, and what type of work and financial goals to pursue.  

As we encourage more women to claim their seats at the leadership table, it’s essential that we build a community that reflects the true diversity of our communities.  Just as women should not be left to count on men to advocate their interests, women with disabilities must be supported to speak for themselves.  Rachel exemplifies this, and I’m so eager to see where her life and political work take her.

--Senator Sara Gelser


I became an activist because I was tired of struggling and watching other people struggle.

I have cerebral palsy and I met Senator Gelser through my advocacy work and job with Oregon State's Developmental Disabilities Services Program.

I became an activist because I was tired of struggling and watching other people struggle.  It wasn’t fair anymore, so I decided to be a voice for them and myself.  Before I came along, I don’t think people listened to other people with special needs very well.  They started to listen to me because of my job with the State of Oregon. I’m coming out of that generation gap where people with disabilities are starting to work and empower themselves.

Yes, I have testified in front of the state senate and I helped save the Fairview Housing Trust (that aids in maintaining community and at home housing opportunities for our developmental disabilities population.)

--Rachel Simpson