Frank Stephens’ life has changed a lot in the past year, and it all started with a single sentence: “I am a man with Down syndrome, and my life is worth living.”
Frank spoke those words in a testimony before the U.S. Congress on Oct. 25, 2017 — exactly one year before ADEC’s Annual Celebration. In that powerful speech, Frank told lawmakers that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the same chances at life as anyone else, and they are more than a “birth defect” or “syndrome” that should be eradicated.
That seven-minute testimony has gone viral and at last count has been viewed online more than 200 million times and has taken Frank around the world. In the past year, he has traveled somewhere in the range of 60,000 miles to destinations in Australia, Switzerland, France and — most recently — Elkhart, Indiana.
We were humbled to welcome Frank to northern Indiana as the keynote speaker for our Annual Celebration. We could not think of a better person to help us celebrate the people we serve at ADEC — especially our six award winners (who will be recognized in a separate blog post).
Hundreds of our friends filled CENTER six one five on Thursday evening to hear from Frank, a man who has become one of the leading advocates for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Frank, who has been quoted in a speech by former President Barack Obama and has walked the red carpet at the Emmy Awards in Hollywood, is a bit of a celebrity at ADEC (his presence even moved one ADEC employee to tears).
In his keynote address, Frank talked about differences “so tiny they fit inside a human cell” and “so large they span a generation.”
Frank has spent a lot of time thinking about how different his life would have been if he was born in the 1950s like his dad. Instead of enjoying dinner with the president of the U.S. and starring in movies, Frank would have been sent to an institution and would never have learned to read or write — and he certainly wouldn’t have been traveling the world as a public speaker.
Frank recalled meeting a mother many years ago who told him how she prayed every day that her son with an intellectual disability would die before her because she was terrified that no one would be there to care for him when she was gone.
“No momma should ever have to make that prayer,” Frank told the audience in an emotional moment. But they don’t need to anymore, Frank said — because of organizations like ADEC that exist to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities so they can lead lives full of choice and possibility.
Frank’s speech earned him a standing ovation from the audience at ADEC’s Annual Celebration, and he was quickly surrounded by fans as soon as the program ended. Family members thanked him for being a strong and powerful voice for their child, sibling or friend with a disability.
On Friday morning, Frank and his parents stopped by ADEC’s Bristol campus to learn more about the programs we offer and meet some of the people we serve.
But first, he needed caffeine — and Gaining Grounds delivered. Frank sampled a brew that will soon be offered at ADEC’s Gaining Grounds Center and gave it his seal of approval. “Mmm, that’s good!” he said as he tasted it. The new coffee shop in Bristol will be open soon — we’re just waiting on some final approvals — and Frank encourages everyone to stop by for a taste.
At ADEC’s Day Service at Bristol, Frank learned about how the individuals we serve can learn new vocations including sewing, baking, cardmaking, ceramics and painting. He also had the chance to participate in one of ADEC’s all-time favorite activities: karaoke. Frank danced to the tune of “YMCA” alongside his new friends at ADEC.
Frank’s visit to ADEC brightened up an overcast October day in Bristol, and we hope to see him again soon!