Cindy Bentley began her journey in self direction many years ago while living in a state institution. All of her life, people had assumed that Cindy – who has an intellectual disability and had up to that point been in foster homes and institutionalized since birth – was incapable of living independently in the community. But one day, Cindy was asked if she wanted to live somewhere else. Cindy said yes, and before long, she became passionate about self direction and living a self-determined life.
Today, Cindy lives in her own apartment. She has the supports that she needs, in the places she chooses to have them. Cindy is a shining example of self direction in action, as well as a gracious leader to people of all abilities. She is a member of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Long-Term Care Advisory Council alongside other state leaders in long-term care services and supports, actively advising on best practice strategies for self direction. Cindy is also very involved in helping others who are new to self direction and at the beginning of their journey towards living a self-determined life, helping them find opportunities for community involvement and inclusion. Cindy has been enrolled in Wisconsin’s self-directed IRIS waiver program since its inception, and has shared her experiences with others throughout the state in her role as the Executive Director People First Wisconsin, a statewide self-advocacy organization for people with disabilities.
Among her other achievements, Cindy is a member of the Milwaukee Community Services Board; a Wisconsin and International Special Olympics participant; an author and public speaker; a member of the Survival Coalition, a statewide advocacy coalition; and a long-standing participant of Disability Advocacy Day. Cindy teaches people about self direction by example and encouragement, and has proven time and time again that when someone is empowered to grow into their full potential, amazing things are possible.
From Cindy: I became a leader because of the people who helped me to speak up for myself. I also wanted to fight for other people who have similar disabilities. When I was moving out of the state institution, I was told that I would not amount to anything – I proved every one wrong! Yes, there were struggles and there were hard times, but I was able to get through those times with support. I appreciate all the help! I never dreamed that I would be an executive director of a state-wide organization. So yes, people with intellectual disabilities can be a director, a lawyer, on the school board – anything! Furthermore, people with disabilities are changing the world! Don't assume that we can't do anything. In closing, you label jars, not people!