Getting to Know the New ICI Director: Tom Sannicandro

From left, at the 2015 Building Inclusive Communities conference: William Kiernan, dean of the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development; Senator Tom Harkin, disability advocate and architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act; Tom Sannicandro, incoming director, Institute for Community Inclusion.

What inspired you to get into social policy?

Really my work was around trying to get my son educated, that’s how it all began. We had a lot of challenges to get him the best education we could, and my perception was a lot of it had to do with structures that were in place as well as prejudices that folks had. It had nothing to do with his ability.

That led me down this deeper path, as my wife and I tried to get him educated in town, and we were essentially running into trouble as he went up in grades and we had to organize other families in town. Then I ended up running for school committee to have more of a say. As I got into these elected offices, that’s where I got pretty deep into the issues of social policy as they relate to folks with disabilities.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?

The first one was a law we created when I was in the legislature that we refer to as the “Real Lives” bill. It allows individuals served by the Department of Developmental Services in Massachusetts to control their own budgets, and by controlling their own budgets, they can control their own lives.

Prior to that law, individuals with disabilities served by that department didn’t have any control at all in their budgets, and their money was the result of a contract between the department and a provider agency. So if the individual wanted to have any say over their life, they really didn’t because they didn’t control the money, and this law allowed them to control their money. So that was a big one.

The second one relates to work that we’re doing at ICI, which is including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities in higher ed. We created a grant program in Massachusetts that we’ve educated 1,200 students across the state with those disabilities in our public colleges and universities. But I’m trying, and I will continue to try even at ICI, to change the law to make sure that no barriers exist for those students as they try to continue their education.

Where would you like to see the world in 10 years?

In the area of disabilities, it would be to make sure that individuals with disabilities have the same access to education and employment and healthcare that everybody else does…And the same quality of life and freedoms that everybody else enjoys that I think a lot of times folks with disabilities don’t have.

Who’s someone that you look up to?

I think it’s typically individuals or individuals with disabilities that really buck the status quo. The one I most work with is my son, and he really works hard at a whole lot of things to make good things happen for him.

What is one question you wish I had asked but didn’t, and can you answer that?

I’m so excited to be going to ICI, and this is really my absolute dream job. The level of work that happens at ICI, the research as well as the practicality of implementing the research across the country and across the world to change people’s lives for the better, I’m just really excited to be involved in such a great organization and be part of that.