Our Beliefs

Girl with down syndrome and certificate

Dignity Of Risk: Everyone Gets To Make Mistakes

“People care about me and want to protect me. And, I appreciate that. But, I don’t want to be protected from living my life.”

GMSA believes people should try new things and take risks throughout their lives. We make mistakes. It is how we learn and how we grow. Often people with disabilities are held to a higher standard. When we make mistakes, it frequently leads to harsher consequences. People with disabilities do not need or want to be overprotected. All we want is to be able to make mistakes and learn from them. We grow from experience, just like everyone else. People with disabilities must be given the same chances as people without disabilities to make mistakes.

Respectful Language: Because Words Matter

“Whispering about me…I can still hear you, whether I am able to tell you with words.”

GMSA believes people with disabilities get to choose how we talk about our disabilities. We choose what words we use. Not so long ago, the term “Mental R#tardation”, or the “R” word was used to label us. Today the “R” word and other demeaning language are used as slang and also used to insult other people. We see this in school settings, movies, social networking, and on the street.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do not walk in our shoes. They are not aware of how we feel having to hear these words. It is an ongoing campaign for us to advocate for respectful language and attitudes. When someone tells a joke that puts down a person with a disability explain to them why this is a problem.

Modern Startup Business


GMSA believes that everyone should (or deserves to) be included in all parts of society. We welcome and respect all people no matter their:

  • ability
  • race
  • ethnic background
  • faith
  • gender identity
  • who they love
  • or where they are from

We, at GMSA, do not believe in segregation. It is not okay to separate people because of their differences. (Some examples include sheltered workshops, institutions, and day programs.) We do not, and will not, tolerate this happening.

Nothing About Us, Without Us

GMSA believes that when decisions are being made about our lives, we need to be there. Who knows us better than we know ourselves? Please listen and take us seriously. Not just one time, but every time. People with disabilities need to have the final say in all decisions about our lives. Here are just a few examples:

  • When my schedule is being discussed.
  • When lawmakers are deciding on a budget for services.
  • When TV producers make a show about us.
  • When a new public health program will impact our lives.
  • When someone teaches a training about people with disabilities.
  • When a museum wants to create exhibits for all people in our town.
  • When a school teaches about diversity.
nothing about us without us

One in 5 people in the U.S. has a disability. When you’re watching TV, at work, shopping, at a school or college, or anywhere in your town, we urge you to look for people with disabilities. Check to see that people with all different backgrounds are part of the “mix”.

Peer Support

Peer Support

“When we get information from people without disabilities it can be 'sugar-coated.'"

It can feel controlling. Whereas peers connect, the truth comes from us through our experience.

GMSA believes in the power of peer to peer connections. As peers, we understand what we’re going through. We have been through many of the same things. When you join self-advocacy you realize you are not alone. You are not the only one facing challenges while living with a disability. When peers connect, we support each other.

Self-Determination: It's My Life, So I Decide

GMSA believes all people with disabilities should make decisions about their own lives. We believe we need to begin this conversation by asking, “What really matters to the person, from their perspective?” Other people in their lives will have opinions about what is important for that person. We need to work to find a balance between the two. Our dream at GMSA is to see people lead lives full of self-determination. 

Don't assume what I can...

Do Not Assume What I Can Or Cannot Do

“My disability causes my hands to be twisted. But I still want to write things down on paper or handle my own money. I just need extra time to do this, but everyone grabs things from my hands and does it for me.”   

GMSA believes that all people with disabilities are capable. It’s ok if we need help with what we are trying to do. You may be tempted to guess what people with disabilities can or cannot do when you first meet them. Do not do that. Get to know us and let us show you what support we need. Have high expectations and dreams for us. Most people with disabilities do better than expected when others expect them to do well. 


GMSA respects and welcomes people from all cultures. We know that people have lots of different parts of who they are. Race, gender, religion, and more are all part of a person. 

For example, Jacob has a disability. He is also a gay, black man. Jacob is all these things at the same time.

GMSA board and staff know that people are treated differently based on who they are and how they look. 

For example, if they are black or gay or a woman or Muslim, etc.

We know that all of us have learned false ideas about people from different groups. 

For example, we have heard hurtful and false comments about women, people of color, immigrants, people who are gay, and others.

When we are meeting, we will point out any false ideas said about people from different groups. We work to learn the facts. We speak up to make sure we stick to the facts.

Diverse group of hands forming a heart

GMSA believes it is our responsibility to fight discrimination and racism. Discrimination is treating people badly because of who they are. We speak up when people are left out and do not get services because of their race, culture, or religious beliefs. We support people from different cultures to learn about self-advocacy. We make sure our groups and events are respectful and accepting of all self-advocates.

A cashier wearing gloves and a mask

Equal Opportunity: Making Sure We All Can Participate

“When someone asks me a question, and while I am thinking of my answer, somebody decides for me.”

GMSA believes all people with disabilities have the same right to full participation as any other person. To do so we might need support to participate equally. This is because our disabilities can affect how we:

see, hear, think, learn, feel, move, communicate, or interact with other people.

What others do can help make an experience more or less accessible for people with disabilities. Here are some examples of supports:

  • equipment like a wheelchair, hearing aid, or speech device
  • help from other people
  • technology
  • changing buildings so we can use them

Communication is Key

We must be given the chance to express ourselves. For many people with disabilities, it takes time to communicate what we want to say. Give us time to process information and respond. For those who have a hard time speaking, it will take time to use a device to type a reply.

Use Plain Language

This means it is clear, simple, organized, and says the “need to know” and leaves out the “nice to know.” When information is in plain language, it helps all people - not just people with disabilities. 

We are Unique

We are not all the same. Everywhere you go, we urge you to constantly question “is this situation welcoming and accessible to people with disabilities?” Make sure your events are accessible for people with all types of abilities. We need to be included so we can live life in our own way.

Your tax deductible donations help us make big changes in the lives of Vermonters with developmental disabilities, their families and their support staff!