Ballantyne resident advocates for special needs

Local man named chair of N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities 

by Morgan Smith

With an autistic son and years of advocacy for people with developmental disabilities under his belt, it’s no surprise Gov. Perdue chose Ronald Reeve to a state council whose efforts benefit one of North Carolina’s diverse group of individuals.

A Ballantyne resident and retired businessman, Reeve and his wife Janie have been advocating for special-needs individuals since the 1970s. It’s an issue they’ve been affected by on a personal level with their son John, who is autistic. Reeve said from the beginning, they’ve taught John the importance of independence and self-worth.

“We kind of preach the right to risk – he should have the opportunity to go out and experience the community,” Reeve said, a message that has helped change and evolve perceptions of special-needs people for years.

Now, he’s the chair of the N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities, a 40-member council that seeks to support effective, innovative initiatives that improve the lives of disabled people and promote community inclusion. He also serves as chairman of the Mecklenburg Disability Action Collaborative and leads the “Employment First” community group aimed at increasing employment of people with disabilities. He is a founding member of the N.C. Business Leadership Network and a member of the N.C. Alliance for Full Participation.

In 1973, Reeve and his wife started a chapter of Arc – an organization focused on support and advocacy for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities – in western Connecticut and formed the Ridgefield Organization for Special Education, a parent-teacher group for special education. The family moved to Charlotte in 1989, where they continued their advocacy for inclusion.

Through the years, Reeve said his efforts have mostly been about evolving the social perception of special-needs people. From first fighting to get developmentally disabled individuals out of institutions, now Reeve’s main focus is finding them acceptance in the community, starting with employment.

“My biggest focus is improving employment outcomes,” Reeve said. “Seventy percent are unemployed – that’s huge. The main thing is it’s affecting their lives. Most of these people want to work, but because of attitudes and beliefs, they’ve not been fully included in the community.”

He’s seen it in his son John, who Reeve said is fairly independent as he works and drives.

“It’s still difficult. As you can tell by the unemployment rate, he’s done well. It’s been a long process, but I think it comes through perseverance and motivation.

“A lot of it is about the message they get at home and at school.”

Now, as chair of the council, Reeve said he’s excited to get started.

“I’m excited about it being a platform to continue to advocate for more inclusion at the state level and as much as possible (end) the segregation and poverty of most people with developmental disabilities,” he said.

Reeve was a member of the council for around three months before taking on the role of chairman. A United States Army veteran and retired businessman – as he previously worked at IBM and American Management Systems in marketing, business development and consulting – Reeve said he’s confident and honored to be able to advocate change from the state level.

“I’m hopeful that the community will start recognizing this talent pool and be more receptive to including them in employment, in social life and just the community in general,” he said. “This gives me a platform to help bring that change.”

And with more than 40 years of experience with the issue, Reeve said he understands change doesn’t always happen how you want it to, but it’s important to stay positive.

“Things don’t always change over night, but gradually we become more (accepting) in including these people. Discussions are often about race and ethnicity, but people with disabilities need to be included in that too because they also come in all different flavors,” Reeve said. “They are often the most segregated group we have.”

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