Matt and Cindy in Capitol Building balcony watching governor's address
Matt and Cindy at Governor Shapiro's 2024-25 budget address at the Capitol in Harrisburg

In February, Matt Jennings was at home in Lititz, PA when he received a most surprising invitation. The Governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, asked Matt to join him at the Governor's 2024-25 Budget address, since Matt and his family — his mother Cindy and grandmother Judy — featured prominently in his address. The Governor met Matt and Cindy in June and he was moved by their story.

Matt is a long-time friend of the Institute on Disabilities. More than 10 years ago, he came to Philadelphia to attend his first Augmentative Communication Empowerment and Supports program, or "ACES." As a user of a communication device, Matt thrived during the two-week, full-immersion program, learning to communicate more effectively, testing different technology, and networking with other users of communication devices. He has returned to ACES several times over the years and with the skills developed at ACES, Matt is now able to direct his own life, set his own goals and priorities, and do what he wants to do, when he wants to do it.

young adult student with teacher, learning use of adapted controller for xbox

Matt learns Xbox techniques with Jenn while attending ACES in 2023.

During his budget address, the Governor told the story of Matt's family. He talked about how 24-7 care for people with disabilities is not only hard to fund but hard to find, and that now was the time for Pennsylvania to provide help to families like Matt's. The Governor said: "Let's make this the year that we get it done for Cindy, Judy, and Matthew and thousands of other like them, all across Pennsylvania."

A full transcript of the budget address is available on the Governor's website.

In addition to ACES, Matt also participated in the Institute program called Supports Brokering. The Institute is contracted by Pennsylvania's Office of Developmental Programs to provide certification training to all Supports Brokers across the Commonwealth. The role of a support broker is to assist someone like Matt and his family in self-directing his services and supports. In Matt's case his Supports Broker helps ensure that he follows all the rules for self-direction, leaving Matt and his family to focus on doing and accomplishing whatever Matt would like to in his own community.

Although Matt's mother and grandmother still provide most of his support, Matt now hires and manages some additional support services professionals. His communication skills, honed at ACES have helped with these tasks. At the most recent ACES last summer, Matt tested and used a new communication device. One of the great features about the new device is that Matt can independently send his messages to his printer so he can generate written messages to mail to friends and family or incorporate them into his journal of daily activities and favorite things. He also learned about the "HP Sprocket Photo Printer" which prints photos on adhesive paper, making updating his journal easy.

Without programs such as ACES, Participant Directed Services and Supports, and others, Pennsylvanians like Matt may not have the ability and the freedom to direct their own lives.

"Self-determination is a cornerstone of the Institute's work," says Sally Gould-Taylor, Executive Director of the Institute on Disabilities. "Appropriating money for initiatives such as Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) helps ensure that all people in Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to live their lives the way they choose."

When asked, Matt says he would come back to Temple University and the Institute's ACES program. He loves meeting new people, building friendships, learning about new technology and, of course, riding his power chair around campus to find the food trucks.

More information about ACES, HCBS, and other programs is available on the Institute website.