Black History Month Profile: Betty Williams

During Black History Month, Independence Now shares stories that celebrate the lives and legacies of Black leaders who have ignited us to create a more inclusive, hopeful, and equitable world.

The following information was collected by Independence Now Board Member, Sandra Sermons, and originally appeared on the Administration for Community Living and National Disability Rights Network.

Betty Wiliams is a Black woman with shoulder length curly hair. She smiles outside in front of a large group of political candidate signs.

Beloved by many, Betty Williams was a legendary self-advocate from Indiana who believed in everyone’s right to hope and dream. From President Obama’s Committee for Individuals with Developmental Disabilities to community-based meetings, she took every presented opportunity to teach, engage and prioritize issues of importance to self-advocates.

Betty passed on in 2018, however her indomitable spirit can be felt through all those she supported, mentored, and whose work she strengthened.

Betty was a former president of Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), an organization of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities. She had also served as president of People First of Indiana and has coordinated consumer education and training with the Arc of Indiana.

A lifelong active self-advocate, Betty received the Champion of Equal Opportunity Self-Advocacy award from the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities in 2016.

Betty was a true self-advocate and leader. During 2011-2012, AIDD held self-advocacy summits to gather information regarding self-advocacy activities and policies in each of the 56 U.S. states and territories. The purpose of these summits was to strengthen and enhance self-advocacy efforts in the states and nationally by learning what each state was doing around self-advocacy, helping each state develop and present a state plan to strengthen their activities around this area, and develop national policy recommendations for AIDD and its partnering organizations. She not only participated in the summits, but was also on the advisory committee.


Betty’s self-determination, strength and power had a real impact on the self-advocacy movement. Her leadership provided a strong example for many other self-advocates across the country who also raised their voices.


Like all great leaders, Betty was a great listener. She listened to other self-advocates about issues that mattered to them like competitive employment. She also had the ability to communicate these issues to leaders at AIDD and other federal agencies. This communication ultimately contributed to the creation of the Self-Advocacy Resource Center.


Finally and most importantly, Betty was a great friend to everyone she knew. She always asked how you and your family were. Her smile fostered comfort and confidence to friends and strangers alike. We will all miss Betty’s strength, leadership, and friendship.


Black History Month Profile: Betty Williams
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