James T. Brett, known to many as Jim Brett, received the Katie Beckett Advocacy Award from the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry (ADDMD) at the organization’s 2017 annual conference.
The award is named after Katie Beckett who, from age three, had been hospitalized (for viral encephalitis) despite the protestations of her parents. President Ronald Reagan invoked her case as an example of irrational federal regulations in 1981. Eventually, a ruling that allowed children with special healthcare needs to be treated at home became known as the Katie Beckett Waiver – and since 1981, more than 500,000 children with disabilities have been allowed to live at home. The advocacy award bestowed upon Jim Brett is among the Academy’s most distinguished honors.
A former politician who hails from Boston, MA, Jim Brett is the current president and CEO of The New England Council and was appointed the Chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID) by President Obama. Prior to that, Brett was a respected and accomplished member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1981-1996).
When once asked what brought about his concern and compassion for people with disabilities, Jim said, “It happened the day I was born. My oldest brother, Jack, was challenged with an intellectual disability. In the 1930’s when he was born, it was common for persons with his disability to be committed to institutional care. Our mother would have none of that. He was her son, and he would live with her in her home. We five other kids were expected to, and we joyfully did help after him.” Mary Ann Brett, an immigrant from Ireland, vowed that she was “going to have more children and they will provide love for him, and we will love him as a family….’’ Jim looks at his brother as a gift and a blessing to the family. “He opened our eyes and our hearts to the needs of the disabled. In his special way, he was our teacher, and we learned the lesson early on.”
Dr. Steve Perlman, a distinguished member of the AADMD and regular Exceptional Parent Magazine author, is a dentist based in Lynn, Massachusetts who has made it his life’s mission to help improve access to dental care for people with special needs. He was Jim Brett’s mentor. For Perlman, what makes Jim Brett special “is his sense of purpose, his belief that we all have a responsibility for the most vulnerable among us.”
Exceptional Parent Magazine’s Editor in Chief, Dr. Rick Rader, noted that John Maxwell, leadership guru and author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, had to be thinking of Jim Brett when he wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Dr. Rader considers Jim Brett to be one of America’s most respected, influential and committed disability advocates.
“For decades, readers of Exceptional Parent Magazine have become familiar with a multiplicity of names of leaders in the disability field,” Rader said. “When presented with honors by the AADMD, Brett’s acceptance speech provided glimpses of his life and how he was molded and mentored by both his beloved, late mother and his late brother, Jack. Jim is quick to share that his mother, Mary Ann, was the original ‘exceptional parent.’ Jim’s own words have provided a cascade of how family, spirituality and love have provided the foundation of a life of service, leadership and commitment. It is a rare opportunity to begin to understand how our disability leaders have been guided by values, optimism and positivity.”
Jim Brett’s humanitarian work has been recognized by a number of organizations, including Easter Seals, the Disability Law Center, The Price Center, Bridgewell, Action for Boston Community Development, Massachusetts Special Olympics, and Community Resources for Justice. In 1996, Bay Cove Human Services of Boston named a new community home for disabled adults “Brett House” in Brett’s honor. In 2009 and 2011, the Boston Red Sox invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park in recognition of his national contributions in support of people with intellectual disabilities. Last year, the University of Massachusetts, Boston established the James T. Brett Chair in Disability and Workforce Development, the nation’s only endowed chair in disability and workforce development Jim Brett has been a pivotal member of both the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, as well as the National Council on Disabilities. He has been instrumental in pushing for the national designation and recognition of people with intellectual disabilities as being members of the “medically underserved