It is with great sadness that the Connecticut State Independent Living Council, Inc. (CTSILC) has received word that Thomas J. Connors, Ph.D. passed away on Saturday, October 17th.
Tom Connors, Ph.D., was paralyzed at 19 years old in a swimming accident. He had recently stated that he “celebrated his 50th year” as a wheelchair user. Tom attended UCONN, and as one of the first wheelchair users to attend this college, Tom was instrumental in helping raise awareness for the need of accessibility on college campuses.
Tom Connors was one of the heroes of the Disability Rights Movement that began as a “grassroots movement” for civil rights and independence for people with disabilities that eventually realized sweeping legal victories over the years, including the overriding of President Nixon’s veto of the Rehabilitation Act by Congress and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (formerly the
Education of all Handicapped Children Act), which requires that children with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment possible. The Independent Living Movement articulated and embodied the values of the Disability Rights Movement. One critical aspect of Independent Living philosophy is the conversion from the Medical Model to the Independent Living Model (or Social Model) of understanding disability.
Tom Connors was an active CT SILC member for many years and served two terms as President. He was well respected and a very strong advocate for all people with disabilities and was able to teach and reach out to people with and without disabilities in an extremely positive way to give all people a good understanding of how important the work of the Centers for Independent Living and the Connecticut State Independent Living Council’s work is to ensure that the mission of the SILC, which is to promote choice, equal access, opportunity, and full inclusion of people with disabilities in the economic, political, social, cultural, and educational mainstream of American Society is carried out
Tom especially loved youth, and made it possible to send youth with disabilities down to the National Council of Independent Living (NCIL) Conference in Washington D.C. in order to “pass the torch” to a new generation. That same year, Tom wanted youth with disabilities in CT to have a chance to see what
NCIL was about. With Tom’s wisdom and personal connections to people in the DC area, CT SILC was able to host a large conference at Southern Connecticut State University for youth with long time friend, Judy Heumann, Internationally Recognized Leader in Independent Living and Disability Rights who was keynote speaker at the conference, along with a panel other nationally prominent youth leaders who discussed Disability Rights and Independent Living Today with young people with disabilities who live in CT. He also created a “timeline” of disability rights history that SILC still uses today.
His lifelong achievements have been recognized by multiple local, state, and national awards, a sample of which include the Secretary of State's Public Service Award 2003, National Spinal Cord Injury Association, CT Chapter Award 1999, the Gaylord Lyman Gold Medal 1983, and the Fairfield University Alumni Association, Man of the Year Award 1978. Connors was selected by President
Jimmy Carter as a recipient of the Outstanding Handicapped Federal Employees of the Year Award, an honor presented to Connors in a 1978 ceremony in Washington, DC.
Tom was a gifted writer who never let his disability get in the way of what he wanted to say or do. Tom’s wife Maria is such an incredible person who tirelessly and lovingly went with Tom to Washington DC and other places so that he could accomplish his important work.
CT SILC would like to thank Maria for the countless hours of time, mileage and hard work that she and Tom gave to SILC, never asking for anything in return. They both believed in SILCs vision and mission and wanted to make sure that Connecticut continues to be a state where all people, regardless of their disability, are respected, accepted and valued, have a range of choices and are free from barriers that limit them from fully participating in society.
Connecticut has lost a very important man, who made a difference in the lives of so many. He taught people with and without disabilities how to live life to the fullest, how to work hard no matter what obstacles they face, and how important it is for each of us to make a difference in the world….and most of all, to help make life better for all people from all walks of life.
The Connecticut State Independent Living Council, Inc. thanks Tom for all of these gifts.
We will miss you!