It’s February, we’re digging out of our first major winter storm of the season, and love is in the air—or at least in the candy and greeting card aisles in retail stores. As a 30-something single disabled woman, I know first-hand the ups and downs involved in the search for love: the trials of meeting people online, awkward first dates, butterflies, breakups and heartache. Throwing a disability in the mix can make the quest for love even more daunting. When and how should you disclose your disability? How many details should you give your potential partner about your disability? How do you navigate intimacy and privacy, especially if you rely on the assistance of PCAs or home health nurses for your daily needs? How will marriage and family affect your disability benefits? These are just a few of the challenges people with disabilities face in the dating world.
We would all be lucky to have the kind of love for which Gloria Gunderson Steinbring fought. This issue’s front page story chronicles the life of Gloria, who passed away in January at age 71. Gloria met Dean Steinbring after she moved from Hibbing to Minneapolis; they lived in the same large group home and worked together at a sheltered workshop. They dated, fell in love, and in 1970 Dean proposed.
In an interview on YouTube, Gloria described their relationship. She said the staff at their group home repeatedly
told them they could never marry, that it was impossible because of their intellectual disabilities. Gloria laughed as she talked about planning their wedding behind the staff’s back—she and Dean would not take no for an answer. They enlisted the help of their case workers, who had to petition the state to ask for permission for them to marry, as Dean was a ward of the state. Eventually the state said yes. Gloria and Dean were married from 1974 until Dean’s death in 1983.
I was not lucky enough to know Gloria personally, but it is clear from the tributes and testimonials that have come out since her death that we as a community have lost a kind, determined and powerful advocate for change.
As Minnesota pushes forward with its Olmstead plan, we need only look at the life of Gloria to see the importance of choice and individualized services. Gloria was shuttled to a sheltered workshop, told she didn’t have the skills for competitive employment and would be doing sheltered work for the rest of her life. Imagine the advocacy our community would have lost had Gloria believed what she was told and had never pushed beyond the low expectations that kept her in that workshop for eleven years.
Minnesota must continue to take steps to ensure that all people with disabilities have the same ability to choose the life, love and work that is best for their needs. Gloria Steinbring was a remarkable example of the power of self-advocacy. We all must have our voices heard and the opportunity to choose the lives that fit our needs. We cannot let low expectations silence future leaders.