Episode 25: Adrienne Miao and Matthew LeFluer

Adrienne Miao interviews Matthew LeFluer, a self-advocate with autism. Matthew works extensively on committees with disability organizations and the State of Vermont — including the CDCI Community Advisory Council. Matthew has a lot of experience with disability service systems in Vermont, and he has a lot of advice for how to make those systems work better.

A full transcript of the episode appears below.

Adrienne Miao: Thank you for joining us. My name is Adrienne Miao. I am the Community Services Coordinator at CDCI and I am so excited today to have our guest, Matthew LeFluer joining us. Matthew, do you mind introducing yourself?

Matthew LeFluer: Thank you, Adrienne. Yes, my name is Matthew LeFluer. I live in Alburgh Vermont in Grand Isle County, the last town before Quebec, Canada and Rouses Point, New York. I use pronouns he/him. I live with family. My occupation is City of Vermont, statewide, 15 to 16 probably to be determined committees across Vermont. I work as an advisor, a council member, and a committee member and a commission member. My work is very, very complex across the state of Vermont, but I do it for just the individual access needs of the person. I try to make sure that their access needs are met fully by the ADA American with Disability Act law, but also as an individual to make sure that everybody has a right to the way of life in the Green Mountain State that they care and love about. Thank you for having me.

Adrienne: Thank you, Matthew. We are going to talk a little bit more about the work that you have become involved in and we’re so happy to have you on the CDCI Community Advisory Council right now. But I want to ask you a little bit about growing up. My first question is, have you always been a doer? You seem to be very involved.

Matthew: Yeah, when growing up, I always had the notion of being a doer. Not at first. I thought I would just step back and let someone else do it, to take charge. See where that would’ve brought me to or where that would go. But in life, I say to get things done… I have to self-advocate for myself and my family and try to be a role model for children, families across the state, but also in my own circumstances is try to be better at trying to communicate to other people. Try to understand people in their way.

Try to figure out what I truly want. What I truly want is the collaboration and cooperation of individuals no matter what background they’re from. Because what I see in my life is if I don’t collaborate or keep in contact with individuals in my life, then nothing will get done. As for the question as for me being a doer, I take this very seriously because there’s people out there that don’t take their job very, very seriously. I want to show it, see what they do, not what they say approach to my work because anything less, it’s just plain lip service, not true. I don’t like giving lip service to people. For me and my life, I think being true to myself and my way of looking at what I can offer to be my authentic self in that process, is the best way to serve the community of Vermont statewide. Thank you for asking that question.

Adrienne: Thanks, Matthew. We’ve just mentioned that we’re both in Vermont right now and I know you do a lot of work across the state. I’m wondering what are some things that you like about living in Vermont?

Matthew: Thank you for asking that question. What I like about living in Vermont is the snow. As you may know, winter weather is very, very breathtaking to myself and my family. It’s just been a miraculous site to experience. Yes, it’s cold, wet and heavy. Sometimes it’s a chore to have to clean your driveway, snow blow your driveway, do it by hand. But it’s also very beautiful that I’d be able to experience it firsthand, and that is one aspect. One part of why I like Vermont is that winter beauty that everybody likes here.

Another part of the reason why I like coming to Vermont, is it’s a small state which is not as crowded. It’s more open, open free. It has some advantages there of why it’s so free. It has the better health advantages among other states. But also, it has the nature of why it’s called the Green Mountain state of Vermont. It’s that nature aspect that people come to live and enjoy and it’s quiet on days. For me that’s very peaceful. Number three, which I like about Vermont, that stands out among others, it’s the democracy of Vermont.

Voting rights and how it’s being run. There are some progress moving forward, but for all in all, it’s done pretty good so far. Voting rights are individual rights and individual rights are disability rights. It all works together. I think Vermont has shown the nation that everybody has a right to vote no matter what. I think in a democracy which is under attack from extremists across the nation, I think Vermont has done pretty good on protecting individual rights. That’s number three of why Vermont stands out among the rest. Thank you.

Adrienne: Thanks, Matthew. In telling your story a little bit, I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about what school was like, what it was like growing up and when you came to Vermont.

Matthew: Thank you, Adrienne, for asking that question. Let’s start off about my livelihood when I grew up. I actually did not live here in Vermont. I actually lived in the state called Iowa, they call it that state for a reason. It’s a state that I was forced living there. Growing up, I was an orphan. Me and my twin brother were orphaned. Our birth mother, not our adopted mother, our birth mother was a heavy user on drugs and was an all-out partier all night. We don’t even know who the father is at this point.

All I know is she was living her life at this point with me and my twin brother in her womb at this point. She did drugs that affected me and my brother cognitively, ADHD, fetal alcohol syndrome, born premature. Then from that point, we actually had safe haven with an Amish family, which was in Kelowna, which took us in until we were adopted by my true mother and father. Which was they wanted us since day one and we’ve been living with them ever since. But for all in all, my growing up there, it was a challenge.

I wouldn’t sit there and say it was the best, but that’s all I remember was growing up there. Then me and my family moved from Iowa to Vermont in 1994. 1995 was actually physically in Vermont, but 1994 is when we moved. 1993 is when we started our move, made our tracks way here, our movement here. 1995 was when we actually settled down here. We’ve been in St. Albans, Vermont for one year. We’ve been in Alburgh ever since, which is for 26 years.

One year in St. Albans, then we moved to our permanent home as we currently live in Grand Isle County for about 26, 27 plus years. Growing up in Vermont in the school system was I should say for me, was so-and-so. My town currently, as you may know, Alburgh has that same, it still was then, still is now. They’ve done better but the resources and tools in Alburgh for the special education when I was growing up at the time was none. There was none available.

Plus the atmosphere changed tremendously in the school system for me and my brother. I felt very, very tense the first couple of times I was there. Because me and my brother, we’re twin brothers. Me and my brother were the only person of color there at the school. It was tense already and it wasn’t welcoming. I wouldn’t say that it was welcoming. I would say that it was challenging, it was hard for the staff to understand individuals with disabilities.

They still have that problem to this day, there’s nothing I could do about that. But there’s nothing I could do about currently to this day about what’s going on in that school system. Everybody knows that school system, special education is not as good where it should be. But back then, there was none. Growing up in a town, in a state for the first time, it was challenging because for a town that’s mainly white, having two Black kids in this town was very nerve wracking.

It was very, very hard to tell other communities that my mom and dad are white. They adopted us. But they were wondering why did we adopt two Black kids? It was just how it was perceived as. We took it as any other person would. We took it with respect and said, “They’re just curious.” That’s all we did. Vermont’s a curious state. Whereas Iowa’s more full-blown racist and they put the R in racist big time because they would literally go after you. I think Vermont has done a lot better than my home state of Iowa has ever would’ve done in my life span actually. But thank you for asking that question.

Adrienne: Thank you Matthew for sharing. I’m wondering if the adversity, that tenseness that you felt has had a role in shaping your interest in the work that you do today. Do you think that growing up in a small town and facing some of these challenges has influenced why you became an advocate?

Matthew: Yes and yes. Yes it does. In certain ways it does. But I was looking at the overall picture of what Vermont could become if there was any decency of changing its ways. They’re still work in progress, but now it’s being taken notice. Now Vermont’s taking notice that they got to really change their tone right here very quickly. Because there’s a lot of people that can’t afford this type of rhetoric or cannot afford this way of life of being a person of color, living in a white state that still centralize its system around a white culture and white privilege.

Which to me it’s like it’s still to this day, I’m still fighting with that. Because it’s a big challenge. It ain’t just advocacy, but I’m not just doing it for myself and my brother, but I’m also doing it for the voiceless. The people that may have a voice, but they can’t speak or do not have a voice and can’t speak at all. What I see is not just self-advocacy to myself, self-advocacy for others, but in my work is very, very complex. To this day it’s complex.

Because to me it seems like the ones that want to do the hard work are put in that position to do the hard work, but they understand the system the way it is. It’s just other people just let other people and it is not understanding that I like this opportunity, but it’s not fair. Why should we be doing this now when other people before us could have done it? That’s the point, which that confuses me the most is there are people here that could have done it before I did.

Could take this up and actually led with it. That could actually make positive changes within their communities, but feels like I’m not going to touch this because I could see this as in some views of the political spectrum of the state. It could be a negative, they could lose points if they were to help out. It could end their careers. You know how Vermont is, if it brings out positive in their numbers, they’ll do everything they can. But if it brings out negative, they’re not going to touch it.

This should never have been left to the public. This should have been taken care of well before then. It should have been taken care of in the 1900s in my opinion. Because we still see to this day in my work, white advantages in the system. Which I’m not saying all people that are in Vermont are white and to go against it, I’m just saying that’s how Vermont was built. There’s people out there that just are afraid of changing it because they’re afraid of the backlash or they’re afraid of their political career.

Hate to tell you this, it is not all about political. It should never be about political. It should be about doing the right thing. If you’re intentionally doing harm to communities out there that are telling you to change the system because they see something wrong here, just change it. To me it’s like I got to continue to fight for acceptance, equity, inclusion, diversity, and in a sense of belonging for other people. Because Vermont is the place to lay down roots here.

To have that sense of belonging and to thrive in Vermont when possible. Right now it’s being catered and this is what I see, is being catered toward the ablelistic, the people that can. But you know what, it takes everyone to collaborate together to survive. To me it’s like I got to continue to push that message, that collaboration and collectiveness. But collaboration is the key to Vermont’s survival. If we cannot collaborate then we’re done. There’s no if ands or buts, there’s nothing to talk about. We are done.

I can’t see it that way. I see Vermont better than it is now. I see Vermont better than other states. In the future, if it gets there, I see Vermont lead the way in certain things. It just takes heart. I’m someone that’s a friend, a brother, a nephew, someone to look up to, someone to understand. Someone to get to know. Someone to really have conversations with. I’m all that. Because I see you as an individual, I don’t see you as some check. Someone to write off so quickly. I see you as a person in your own world that wants to make a difference for others across Vermont but also across the nation. That’s who we should be. The true Vermonters of the Green Mountain state of Vermont. We should be true to ourselves and to be our authentic selves when we’re doing those types of works together. Thank you for asking that question.

Adrienne: Thank you Matthew. I know that equity and inclusion are really the center of your work and I really appreciate how you remind us that the voices of people of color in Vermont, of Vermonters with disabilities are so important to all of the strategy that the state has to make this state a more welcoming place for different people to belong. I wonder, as a advocate who works on policy, I know you’re involved in many committees across the state, what advice do you have when people feel frustrated with the slow pace of change? Because I know as you said, it’s very hard to keep up your energy in some of this really challenging work.

Matthew: Adrienne, thank you for asking that question. I’m going to tell you this from my dad, he’s a veteran, a military veteran. There is a saying is, the military is like [inaudible 00:20:26], they’re saying it’s too slow to hurry up or something like that way. Their version of it is they don’t mind you recruiting very quickly, but to pay you it takes a long time. A slow time to fix some certain things then, in that aspect. For a veteran, I’m very proud of him what he does to serve his country.

To me it’s like that’s the challenge that we have here. We’re almost going like we’re going too slow at this point. We’re at a standstill and we shouldn’t be at a standstill. We should be keeping up with the rest of the other states, not just the society but the other states of the nation. Right now we’re getting beat left and right by them to the point that we’re not competitive enough.

It’s very, very challenging and frustrating for me to understand a system that it sees it one way. It’s meant for a college student. I’m not a college student, I’m a homeschooler. I did not have that chance in life. It’s who I am. I can’t turn back to clock and change things. It’s who I am. It’s my identity. I’m not going to change myself or modify myself to be something else. If you had to change yourself to be something else, then where is your sense of value after that? Where do you stand after that?

Where do you live after that? How do you connect with people after that? Is with the challenges that I’m facing across my work and it is tiresome. It’s no joke. It’s to the point that at the end of the day, I want to see people accessing that. I want to make sure that no one has to beg on their hands and knees just to get the simple access. To me, it’s very, very frustrating and challenging with the committee’s that I’m on because they’re all seeing it in an advanced language.

In a language that is meant for college students to get, no one else. No baby boomers, the voters, the ones that really do vote. It’s not meant for equity, anyone of color to understand, English learners. It’s not meant for that. It was meant for one side. Vermont has traditionally seen it one side. We’re starting to see that play out. Or in my committees across Vermont, playing out very frequently that Vermont system is pandering to one side. Either it’s my way or the highway.

Vermont has that notion that we do it one way and one way only. To me it’s like that’s extremely frustrating because not everybody learns that way. Not everybody does that thing that way. Me and you both know not everybody acts that way either. We all have our individual mindset. We are all individuals that do things, learn things, do things, not just do things differently but ask things differently in how we live this. One thing that even makes me even more frustrated is we are not machines to the system.

We are our own individuality. We think for ourselves, not the way the system of Vermont says. To me it’s like we’re getting off-topic of what Vermont truly is for members and it’s communities. That’s not the way to go about things. Because it’s basically saying individuals, communities out there that to be able to survive in Vermont, you have to learn only one way and that’s our way. Not your way, our way. That’s not how Vermont should act toward its constituents or its members. Thank you for asking that question.

Adrienne: Thank you, Matthew. I know that accessibility to the different systems in Vermont is very important to your work. I know that we’ve talked a lot about access to work and people being able to make a livable wage and afford to live in our communities. I wonder if you would mind sharing a little bit more about what it’s been like for you putting together the work that you do and finding jobs in Vermont.

Matthew: To me, it’s hard. Oh, my work life experience? Oh, where should I begin? My first one, I’m going to let you know my easiest ones were I wish if I could get back there is childcare of Vermont. I’m actually very comfortable in that setting. I actually like taking care of children. I not only like teaching children, but I take care of them like a mother would have. A true mother would have. Because I can learn from them and they can learn from me. It goes both ways. It doesn’t go one way. It goes both ways, the learning experience.

Childcare for me was actually the first job that I ever took up, had. It was a volunteer, but you know what? It was a job. It was getting outside the house, trying to see where my place belongs, what can I do to serve communities? To me it’s like that was one of my first jobs that I really truly love and care about. Because I like interacting with children and to this day, they like interacting with me. They wonder where I am every day. Because I still help out actually in my local library up here.

I continue to help out with play group, which is an age from two to five. To this day they still wondering where I am. That’s a great honor to work with little people and actually get to see and understand where they’re coming from in their lives. That’s one of the best work life that I would like to enjoy. Am I still working in that currently? No, I’m not because the way the system of bias. It’s just no biases in the system and it’s being pointed toward a community of color, literally.

I’m not the only one. There’s other people that love to do this job for pennies on a dollar, which I was getting paid nothing but pennies on a dollar for it. But I didn’t look at that back then as a pay. I looked at that as being respected for who I am, not what I am. That’s how I look at that job was. Then there was other childcare jobs that were actual childcare jobs, which I still loved it. A couple of them were. One was this one, which was a Montessori school, which closed down a retired teacher.

She retired, she’s been doing it since the 1960s. It was due for her to retire. The childcare experience has been positive for me in my life. It just, Vermont is strict on rules and they keep on making it more stricter. Me getting in that field is, it’s just a dream. But I don’t think in reality I’m going to get there. You got to roll the punches as they say it. It is something that I love to get back into, but not at this moment.

Answer to your other question, how was my work life had been? I went to work for a gas station, which is retail. Then I went to a Walmart, which is also retail. The one in St Albans, when it was open. It was some work experience. I liked some of that experience, but to me it’s like I quit that. It got old for me very, very quickly. I wasn’t comfortable in it. It wasn’t my passion. My passion is to help people. Those were, except for the childcare, that’s where it lies.

Those were just try-outs. I would just want just to try out and that’s it. I just want to try it and see how I can make it. You know what? There’s your weaknesses and your strong points in the life and those were my weaknesses except for the child care. Those retail areas was my weakness because I did everything right. It’s just not in their standards and not as fast as they want me to be in there. Which retail is fast. It’s like put it up as quick as you can.

Don’t bother if it’s in the wrong place, which in my mind is you got to place it in the right place for the customer to get. But you know how retail is. Put up quick, don’t ask questions. That was pretty much my work of life. To this day, I’m unemployed. Ain’t just because of my disability, it just, there’s no job out there that would work for me. I do see in the near future that when it comes to time that it’s a need for inclusion, diversity, acceptance of individuals of all backgrounds regardless whether they have disability or not, that can be included in the workforce.

I think that’s when I see positivity changing. Positivity and optimist is changing across the state of Vermont. We know this very well. The individuals with disabilities work their butts off just to get noticed. Just to take notice. Just to get approval. That’s how Vermont looks at it as. They don’t look at it as a regular me and you are working our butts off. Oh, you get praises because you’re a regular employee. No people with disabilities has to work extremely hard just to get approval. That is not right.

That’s not okay. I should be treated as the same individual like me and you. As a regular work colleague, not something less of. If I don’t have a job, like I said, my job right now is to be able to help other people. Even if it’s just this now and other commissions that have accepted me for who I am, not what I am and the work that I do so hard to this day. If you call this work. It’s a great accomplishment in my mind that I accomplish something that I want so long in life was to help other people feel wanted, feel included, have a sense of belonging, but also feel like they can contribute in his or her way to the society, not what the state has to say.

Adrienne: Thank you Matthew for answering a question that I know is really hard and really emotional. I know we’ve talked about how you’re a doer, but it’s clear to me also how much you are a learner and approach all these experiences to learn from them as well and to take that as you teach others. I know that a lot of these systems which are not inclusive enough and don’t offer possibilities to everyone are issues that we have at our state and throughout our country.

I know that recently you and I both had the opportunity to go to Washington DC as part of your work with the community Advisory council and to advocate with some of our representatives. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how it’s been starting up with the CDCI’s community Advisory council. I know you’ve worked on other advisory boards before, but could you share a little bit about what your first year has been like?

Matthew: Thank you for asking the question and yes, I definitely enjoyed going to Washington DC. I already knew what I was doing and knew what I was doing and already knew where I was going with that. Because I’ve been there before. It was like I said, I’ve been there three months ago earlier for the Farm Bill. No lobbying for the 2024 Farm Bill, which mean we had talked to the local representatives of Vermont about how to advocate. Not just advocate but actually succeed in lobbying for that farm bill.

Which has a lot in that template of what Vermont wants to see. Like aggregation culture, try to aggregate some of these cultures. Just farming of the land, trying to help farmers survive in Vermont. But what helped me was starting out with the CDCI was and how has it been? I enjoyed doing what I came here to do with the CDCI because it made me feel wanted. It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. It made me feel like I can actually make positive change in someone else’s life.

Which is hard to come by in a small rural state of Vermont. For me, it’s just being a part of something that I can contribute to, that I feel I have a sense of belonging and understand other people aspects feels of where they’re coming from. Actually they’re seeing their stories at hand in their communities. I see it in my community, but I also see it throughout Vermont statewide. The picture is very, very clear for me. It really is.

I see a collaboration of us all coming from different sectors of Vermont, not only getting down to the nitty-gritty of why the system’s so inaccessible. Plain, white, old, is breaking apart, its infrastructure in itself is breaking apart and coming together as we’re actually realizing that you know what?

That this system was not meant with accessibility. It was meant for one-sided. We’re seeing that now. All of us are seeing that now. We’re seeing that this system needs to go, there’s no if, ands or but. It needs to go. Because it helps everybody else out, not just us with disabilities, but helps our community members without disabilities too as well. Because most of those without disabilities understand the system is still complex to navigate.

If it is hard for them to navigate, what about us that have disabilities? It makes us times two, times three harder to navigate. Being involved in this process not only helps me and individuals like me or within a group like me with disabilities, but it helps other peers that without disabilities to understand that, hey, we’re fixing the system that your government, your chancellor, your president didn’t want partaken. Me being on this team has opened my eyes up to seeing a system more clear than it ever has before.

I actually can see the system that it’s telling me that there’s a lot of problems still in here that no one has touched. Because either they’re afraid to, don’t have enough time to, or they take a lot of backlash into. Because it makes that environment unfriendly. Because in any type of world you’re trying to better, not understand the system, but you’re trying to be a better advocate. But also trying to do better for other communities that need the extra help.

There’s people out there that think of themselves and that’s wrong. They should think about others. To me it’s like I don’t think about myself to get ahead of others. That’s what the state is doing to this day. They’re thinking about themselves to get ahead. It hasn’t worked out in a way that they love to perceive, to hope for, it hasn’t worked out. When you’re trying to get ahead, you make mistakes. When you make mistakes, everybody suffers from them.

To me it’s like I want to do this on the first time, not the second time around. Because that tells you how clear I want you to understand how a system’s going to be simplified in a way where it makes sense for you and your family members, your community members, you as an individual yourself. How can I make the system more sense to you and your way of thinking, not what the state says, but in your way of thinking. I see myself better than I ever could be, but also what can I be do with myself that could bring positive outcome?

One thing that I can do that’s so special to you that I can bring out positive outcomes for positive community. That is the question that I ask all the time is what can I do to bring positive outcomes, to bring positive vibes to a community that needs it right now? Needs hope, needs someone to love them for who they are, not what they are. Needs someone to pick them up if they fall down, to support them. To me it’s like I’m that person that you can talk to. I’m approachable because I see the problems you go through.

I live through them. If I experience through them, I know how you feel because I’ve been through it. How can I help you cope and navigate the system together? Not just with me, but with communities like me that feel the same way of depression. Being forgotten purposely. Being left out of things when you’re not supposed to be. Because to me it’s like if you’re a voting member of the public, then you deserve to be there. There’s no if and ands or buts about it, you’re supposed to be there.

It just, Vermont has its way of looking at a different view than what it should be looking at. That’s a view that I despise the most because it’s basically turning community member versus community member away from each other, but also away from the actual goal we’re trying to achieve here. It’s basically diversity, inclusion, acceptance. Acceptance comes in mind because that meaning everybody’s included no matter what the background is. But thank you for asking that question. It was a pretty tough one.

Adrienne: I’ve been asking a lot of tough questions, Matthew, and I do appreciate how approachable and easy to talk to you are. I know that the work that you do is really to serve the community and to work to change our systems to be more inclusive and more accessible, please.

Matthew: To serve community as a whole. I don’t see it one way or another. It’s not just UVM ecosystem, it’s not just that. It’s something more. I’m looking for something more. I’m looking for the state to actually get on board with this. Because to me it’s like I see that if the state got on board, then these problems would disappear, instantaneously disappear because that’s where it should have been from the beginning. But the reason why we got here in this position was nobody wants to touch it on a 10-foot pole.

Nobody wants to help out with accessibility because they don’t think that they’re going to be disabled. People out here in Vermont think that they’re not going to have a disability. In life you’re going to have a disability sooner or later and you’re going to need those services to work for you. You can’t deny or have a notion of dismissing that altogether. It could be you get hit by a car by accident, oh, you’re disabled. Congratulations, you’re disabled. You may not know about that.

You may not need that service until, ooh, I may just need a service. I didn’t know that I really did this damaging, I didn’t support this. But now I know why did people want to support it, because this will really helped me. That’s the way I look at it is of what you asked me, it’s a very tiring question in general. Not in a way you look at it as, it’s a very tiring question in general because it’s the stuff that I do day by day and it ain’t just advocacy.

Some days I’m actually on other commissions that I’m leading just by myself for the state of Vermont in some ways. Some days I’m on national conferences that I’m representing the city of Vermont by myself. That’s hard. That’s hard to put yourself out there. It’s hard to do that type of work because what you’re doing in reality, it’s making not only your life better, but other people’s life better too as well. For me that’s the reason why I do the hard work is to make sure everybody’s life is better.

That’s the reason why I like to collaborate, have other universities collaborate with us. Because they get it, they understand it and we collaborate and then everybody deserves a little relief. That’s how I like it, is if we collaborate, then we survive and we win. That’s what I would like to see moving forward. But thank you again for asking that question.

Adrienne: That’s a perfect transition because I wanted to end by asking you a little bit about your hopes for the future. I guess my last question is, what is next for you? What would you like to be doing in the next couple of years?

Matthew: That’s a tricky question. Because in the next couple of years, we don’t know what my life, your life, everybody’s life in Vermont set in stone yet. That question is unchartered territory. We do not know where we’re going from here on out. That’s one question. But what I want to see, and I have a notion of what I want to see is more of this collaboration. Collaboration, cooperative networking, not within the UVM network but all sides of Vermont.

To actually have that collaboration work that I want to see or be more involved in because to me it’s like having that is actually the big key for small states who survive. Small states across this great nation of the United States of America have a hard time understanding that cooperativeness and collaboration is key, one of the big keys of survival. Or survivability of the state. If we can’t have that, then one, there’s no point of talking about.

Two, we have failed our constituents and failed the communities that live here. Three, we have failed together as a state. To me it’s like what I hope for the future that with optimistic. What I want to see is continue this collaboration effort with other networks, other community members, other partnerships, other organizations that really want to see this go forward, but also are they’re willing to step out and say, hey, can you help me with this?

Because I see this the same as in your community that you’re also having the same problem as I am with equity, with inclusion, with diversity, with acceptance. Can you help me or do you have any ideas to share with me so I can not only succeed in the progress of what I want to see or my goals or achieve the goals and missions that I set out for? How can I actually truly collaborate together in a way that brings positivity, optimistic, hopefulness, determination?

How can we all come together to make sure that one goal, that one mission, that one statement, that one they call it one silver bullet, but to me it’s like that one star moving forward. How can we all get on that star together and ride it so we can achieve to where we need to achieve our goals and our missions together. We need to change the narrative very, very quickly and say there our progress moving forward, it takes a lot of people to voice that same voice, together to make that progress achievable.

What I have hoped for my job in the coming year, is to continue the work that I’ve done now. Like I said, tomorrow, we’ll see. I literally been asked to be a part of Vermont Department of Health task force, which is to be determined. Which is it’s an honor in itself. Because the Vermont Department of Labor knows what I’m doing. They know someone’s taking it seriously and I got to take it seriously. Then who is going to, if I don’t take this seriously? Who is going to be take the next step and take it seriously?

That’s a question that I’m asking. Who else is going to take this seriously if I can’t? The reason why I’m taking this seriously in my work across the state, because it’s the survivability of the state in itself. We can’t survive if we can’t collaborate together. Thank you for asking the question. Did I answer any other questions that you want me to answer more or is this enough? More than enough? Plenty?

Adrienne: No, you did such a great job today. Thank you so much, Matthew for all of your time and for taking all the questions so seriously. I really appreciate all the thoughtful answers that you gave and I know they were hard-

Matthew: Adrienne, thank you for inviting me. Some of these have to be taken seriously. If no one takes it seriously, then what are we doing here? To me it’s like-

Adrienne: I do have one more question for you though. How do you relax? What do you do to relax?

Matthew: There’s one thing that everybody asks me which I have a difficult time answering. I can’t relax when my job is not done yet. I’ll relax when my job is done. When I’m done making sure everybody’s accommodation needs are met. To me it’s like we can’t relax now. There’s a saying is, if we relax now, then we’re going to get so relaxed that we’re not going to be able to continue on doing much of anything. Or we’re going to get behind on what we do and we want to continue it.

For me, my relaxation is, continue the tough work, continue to fight, continue doing what’s right for individuals that need that extra support. There are sometimes I lay back and listen to music, but to me it’s like I’m always on a goal. I can’t stop to relax. Because if I get into that relaxation phase, then I’ll never be able to continue the goal that I set out for myself. I’ll never forgive myself if I know that individual access needs are not met. It’s just, that’s how I look at things.

It’s, you know what, I can’t relax. It’s not time for relax. It’s time to continue to fight that you started. Because that fight is for accessibility. That fight is for inclusion. That fight is for transparency. That fight is for acceptance of the individual and a sense of belonging of why they love and live in Vermont. I can’t relax because I care too much about where the state is going. It’s just who I am. I do relax from now on time here and there, but pretty much I’m on a go 24/7 literally. If I’m not on one thing, I’m on something else. What I do is very, very tiresome work. But I do know at the end of the day your access need will be met sooner or later and it will be met, hopefully. I’ll have optimism my work is going to bring fruitful progress across Vermont statewide. Thank you.

Adrienne: Thank you so much for joining us today, Matthew. If anyone who’s listening would like to get in touch with you or follow your work, what is the best way for them to contact you?

Matthew: Yeah, they can email me if they have any more questions or concerns or just want to get to know me and my work. If they really want to get to know me is how I do things across the state. Some of the stuff I’ll ask them is, yes, some of these commission are not disability commission, these are state, state commissions. Some of the systems in there are not easy to comprehend. Because even for me, I’m trying to still comprehend some of the systems, what they’re trying to ask them to do.

It’s not easy trying to comprehend something that wasn’t built or designed for us that need little extra support. It was built for one specific reason and it was built for one specific way and it was built for one specific culture of Vermont. I can tell you this, it’s not the culture that I want to see. It’s still portraying that white heritage across the state of Vermont and it should never be that. But Vermont still can’t come to reality that that’s what’s hurting everybody is keeping that tradition.

That system the same instead of trying to actually call it up where it is and actually try to make positive change within that system. That’s how I look at it is. Unless someone actually gets up there and changes it, goes up there and says, call stuff for what it is, I don’t think Vermont’s going to ever going to change unless they call it out for what it is. That’s when we start to change. That’s when you start the positive change when somebody straight up calls it out for what it is.

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