A retiring nun who has pushed for and advocated the rights of people with disabilities was honored and given thanks for her utmost community service and love for her fellow people.
Those people born and accidentally had disabilities have the right to equal treatment and opportunities, including the right to live independently, access education, and participate in their communities, as guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Rights of the Disabled Community Protected
Sister Therese Mary Harrington's upbringing with a disabled father instilled a heightened sense of compassion and responsibility towards those in need. As a child in Montana, she learned early on the importance of lending a helping hand and has carried that mindset throughout her life.
Whether it was supporting her disabled father or supporting a priest in bringing disabled individuals to Mass, Harrington has dedicated herself to improving the lives of those around her.
According to MSN, Sister Therese Mary Harrington's 60-year religious education career has profoundly impacted communities in France and beyond. She began her journey by studying a strategy that would be adopted by St. John, which was established as an agency of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1966.
With her innovative thinking, Harrington improvised a program and put efforts to remove discrimination against people with disabilities and for them to participate among the others in limited spaces. She established inclusive classrooms within parishes, staffed by dedicated volunteers from the community.
As a result, Harrington brought visibility to the disabled population and made a lasting impact on the way religious education is delivered. Last year, the program helped 700 people with disabilities in 114 parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Despite the skepticism of some parishes involving persons with disabilities, Harrington pushed for a new Catholic Church approach where people with intellectual disabilities could participate in First Communion.
In an article in Local Today, according to Harrington, the belief that people with intellectual disabilities weren't qualified was flawed as it wasn't about their ability to recite prayers or confess but rather their ability to form a relationship with Jesus. The program involved artistic expression through painting, individual attention, and consideration for sensory triggers to support this effort. For Harrington, being a part of this program meant always being attentive and putting the needs of others first rather than focusing on oneself.
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An Act That Eliminates Discrimination Among People With Special Needs
Along with the efforts of Sister Therese Mary Harrington, who had made an actual difference in the community, there is an act in America that protects persons with special needs. According to the National Network, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, is a crucial piece of legislation that safeguards the rights and opportunities of individuals with disabilities.
The law commits to eliminate discrimination in all areas of public life, including employment, education, transportation, and public spaces and provides equal rights and protections for individuals with disabilities similar to those for other protected groups such as race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.
The ADA is composed of five sections that cover various aspects of public life and was amended in 2008 by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) to expand the definition of "disability." The ADAAA amendments apply to employment, state and local government programs and activities, and places of public accommodation under Titles I, II, and III of the ADA.
In an article in Chicago Tribune, Harrington was quoted saying, "I love the people. They're very collaborative and very helpful. And I love their families," she exclaimed. "They'll do anything (for their children). So they make wonderful volunteers."
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