Personal Story

Feature Issue on Self-Advocacy for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

Understanding Rights, Having Fun


Cynthia Gayles lives in St. Paul, Minnesota

Before I joined the Olmstead Academy Class of 2019, I didn’t know anything about my rights. I just did what everyone told me to do.

My time at the Academy helped me to understand some things in my life I didn’t know before. I learned a lot and I’m glad I was in it. I learned about Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson and how they went to court for their rights. They wanted to get out of the institution and get treatment and live in the community. The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that they have the right to be in the community just like everybody else. The Supreme Court rule isn’t just about them, it’s about all of us. We all have the right to be in the community.

Kris Jacobs stands between Cynthia Gayles and Michelle Williams with her arms around both women. The group started a Fun Club at Olmstead Academy.

From Left: Michelle Williams, Kris Jacobs, and Cynthia Gayles started a Fun Club.

The program helped me learn more about my rights and helped me get out in the community more often. We learned in fun ways, like games, art, songs and skits. 

My team chose a project and called it the Fun Club. We wanted to help people with disabilities and people without disabilities get together and have a nice day. We picked Jonathan Padelford Riverboat cruises. We got season passes and gave them to self-advocates and others who wanted to get out of the house and have fun. Now I have people in my community asking when we’re going to do this again. Altogether, five self-advocates went on 33 boat cruises along the Mississippi river.  Everyone said they liked it and had a nice day.  The program is very, very good. It helped me to understand and build confidence in my life. 

This is a song I wrote with other people at the Academy. It is to the tune of “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore.”

We deserve our human rights

Not just me, but you too

Helping people in community

Not just me but you too

We all have freedom and dignity

Not just me, but you too

Can help kids in community

Not just me, but you too

I have strong faith in the Lord

Not just me, but you too

Things will work out in the end

Not just me, but you too