Meet Our Honorees

Celebrating 45 Years of Disability Rights Advocacy


DLC is excited to announce its honorees for its 45th Anniversary. Join us in celebrating their remarkable work!

Emily LaMarca – Individual Leadership Award


Emily LaMarcha headshot - Woman with long brown hair and a blue shirt with green accents smiles at the camera. Greenery is in the background

Emily lives in Central Massachusetts with her family and has two amazing kids, the oldest of whom was born with Down syndrome. Emily began her advocacy journey in 2006 with the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC). Since that time, she has been involved with the MDSC’s First Call Program, Advocates in Motion, and has run the Boston Marathon for Team MDSC from 2010-2014.

Emily is passionate about transforming how we support children, particularly in the school setting. Through her parenting journey and through advocating for her son, Emily is all too familiar with the traumatic interventions used in the name of discipline and behavior. She has spent the last seven years working to help schools find alternative strategies to using restraint and time-out rooms. Emily is proud to be part of a team working to develop a platform where Massachusetts educators, parents, and stakeholders can access resources and preventative strategies to reduce and eliminate the use of time-out rooms.

Emily has shared testimony in front of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education to improve school safety. She is a parent advocate for the Commonwealth’s Restraint and Seclusion Prevention Initiative and sits on the MDSC’s Government Affairs Committee. She is also a volunteer for the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint (AASR). Emily plans to continue transforming the lens through which children’s stress behavior is viewed. She hopes that one day all schools will adopt a trauma-informed, person-centered approach that can appreciate the complexity of the nervous system and the individual experiences held within.


The Arc of Massachusetts – Trailblazer Award


The Arc of Massachusetts group picture - ten people in business outfits pose at a banquet hall, seven people stand in the background and three people sit in the front.

The Arc of Massachusetts is the oldest and largest disability rights organization working with, and on behalf of, the more than 200,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and autism, and their families in our state. The Arc advances civil rights for persons with disabilities, promoting the community system of care through legal and legislative means. With our 17 chapters across Massachusetts, we advocate for supports and community-based services such as family support, employment, recreation, and residential.

The Arc is at the forefront of the fight for better lives for people with IDD and autism. Our aims are to ensure the rights of people with disabilities, obtain funding for support services, and seek the passage of good policies and laws, such as the abuse registry (Nicky’s Law). To help citizens learn about and access services, The Arc offers a broad education program that includes in-person trainings, webinars, publications, a biennial Transition Conference, and social media.  Learn more at


Representative Ruth B. Balser

House Legislator of the Year Award


Ruth Balser headshot - woman with short gray hair and a blue shirt smiles at the camera. There is a brick building and greenery in the background.

Ruth B. Balser is the State Representative for the 12th Middlesex District, which includes parts of Newton and Brookline.  Now serving her thirteenth term in the House of Representatives, Representative Balser continues to be an independent progressive voice, fighting for the values and priorities of her community.  Representative Balser serves as a member of House Speaker Mariano’s leadership team as a Division Chair.

As the first psychologist to serve in the Massachusetts legislature, Representative Balser brings a unique perspective. She has made mental health public policy a top priority. Recognized for her expertise and leadership on this issue, she was appointed the first House Chair of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse and served in that role for two terms. She has championed many bills and budget amendments with the goal of expanding access to and quality of mental health and addiction services and reducing the stigma associated with these illnesses. She is credited with expanding mental health parity in Massachusetts, enactment of an omnibus children’s mental health bill, and protecting behavioral health in health care reform legislation.

Each session she files legislation that would strengthen mental health parity laws and expand access to services. Much of her focus is on improving behavioral health services to those who suffer from mental illness or addictions who land in the criminal justice system. Recognizing that these are illnesses, and not crimes, she advocates for oversight from health care, rather than criminal justice, professionals.


Senator Michael Rodrigues

Senate Legislator of the Year Award


Michael Rodrigues headshot - man with short gray hair glasses, wearing a suit jacket with a blue tie smiles at the camera. There is a gray background.

Michael J. Rodrigues is a state senator representing the First Bristol and Plymouth District, serving Westport, Fall River, Freetown, Lakeville, Rochester, Somerset, and Swansea. He was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate in 2010 and was appointed Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means for the 2019-2020 legislative session and continues to serve in this capacity for the current 2023-2024 tenure. Previously, he served as Senate Majority Whip, was Chair of the Senate Committee on Ethics, and was the Chair of the Joint Committee on Revenue.

Prior to being elected to the Senate, Michael served 14 years in the House of Representatives, where he chaired the Committee on Commerce and Labor, the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, and the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. He also served on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Michael graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. He has been the recipient of numerous awards from a variety of local charitable organizations and non-profit advocacy groups. He was also recognized by the President of Portugal in 2010 with the Medal of Prince Henry the Navigator, which is the highest honor bestowed upon non-citizens of Portugal. Michael is also President and Treasurer of ABC Floor Covering, Westport, MA. He resides in Westport with his wife Patty, and enjoys spending time with his two adult children and grandchildren.


Fidelity Investments – Corporate Leadership Award


Fidelity will be honored for their efforts to make the administrative changes necessary to establish ABLE accounts for foster youth.

WilmerHale – Civil Rights Award


The Briggs Team - 18 individuals, mostly in business attire, stand in front of a large windows

On January 17, 2024, WilmerHale and co-counsel at Prisoners’ Legal Services, Disability Law Center, and Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights obtained a significant victory for a class of approximately 600 deaf and hard-of-hearing prisoners in the custody of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (“DOC”), when Judge Richard Stearns of the District of Massachusetts issued a post-trial opinion finding that DOC violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Rehabilitation Act for failing to provide the class with equal access to emergency notifications.   

WilmerHale became involved on a pro bono basis in 2015, when the case was filed.  At that time, class members were not getting even the most basic accommodations, such as hearing aids, interpreter services, or captioned telephones.  The parties settled the majority of issues in May 2019, but DOC continued to refuse to provide the class with meaningful access to emergency notifications.  

During a six-day bench trial in August 2023, Plaintiffs elicited testimony from eight class members, at times with the assistance of American Sign Language, Spanish, and certified deaf interpreters.  The class member witnesses testified powerfully about the isolating experience of being deaf or hard-of-hearing while incarcerated. They also all testified to their experiences missing fire drills because they were unable to hear the alarms or were not notified by correction officers and their fears of being left behind in the event of a real fire.  Plaintiffs also called three expert witnesses—a linguistics expert specializing in the communication capabilities of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, an expert (who himself was deaf) who testified about alternative assistive technologies that can notify deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, and an architect who specializes in ADA compliance—to provide additional context for the class members’ testimony.   

DOC’s case rested on an argument that its existing policy—which relied on correction officers checking a physical book during an emergency or drill to see which prisoners required additional help evacuating, and then personally notifying each of those individuals—was sufficient.  DOC also argued that alternatives like installation of visual alarms were too costly.  But Judge Stearns found that the class’s access to emergency notification systems was not meaningful under the ADA, and that DOC’s cost estimate for installing visual alarms in every housing unit was “overstate[d].”  Judge Stearns ultimately ordered DOC to develop an institution-wide policy to provide the class with access to emergency notifications such as visual fire alarms.  The opinion agrees with Plaintiffs that there are many options DOC could explore to resolve this problem—Judge Stearns even pointed to a smoke detector for deaf people developed in Japan that is based on the pungent smell of wasabi!   

The WilmerHale trial team included Lisa Pirozzolo, Megan Barriger (who delivered plaintiffs’ closing argument in October), Stephanie Lin, Rachel Gargiulo, Rama Attreya Vine, Tess Ambrose Foley, George Manley, Christina Luo, Ted Hasen, John Saylor, Michael Gustavsen, Matt Hoff, and Patty Bessette. Many others also made invaluable contributions to the case over the years of litigation, including Arthur Coviello, Jessica Lewis, Jocelyn Keider, Katherine Mackey, and Charlotte Geaghan-Breiner, Anita Gulino, Leonard Sterling as well as former colleagues Lindsay Kosan, Seth Moskowitz, Jacob Wolk, Alex Lavin, Kevin Palmer, Alathea Porter, William Durkin, and Heather Cuesta.  WilmerHale alum Michael Horrell, now at Prisoners’ Legal Services, was also part of the trial team. The WH team also benefitted from wonderful co-counsel including Jim Pingeon, Ada Lin and Alphonse Kamazi at PLS, Tatum Pritchard at DLC, and Kaitlin Banner at the Washington Lawyers Committee. 


There are still opportunities to sponsor DLC’s event and to purchase tickets. Join us!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

ASL and CART have been confirmed for the event.

(Visit DLC’s Fundraiser Homepage for more details about the event)


Sponsorship Opportunities

View/Download the Sponsorship Opportunities Packet

Click here to donate stock, mutual funds or other securities.



Dark blue background with gold decorative borders. 'Ticket Purchases' in the foreground


Please contact Amanda at if you have any questions or need an accommodation.



Share this page