In the basement kitchen of a stone church nestled in the Green Mountains, Rachel
Wollum studied her reflection in an oven window, adjusting her auburn hair and
orange polka-dot dress until they were just right.
Satisfied with her appearance, Wollum, who is 26 and has Down syndrome, carefully
poured four trays of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies into bags bearing her
name. Then, with the intensity of a drama student, she rehearsed lines familiar to
almost every store clerk in Middlebury, where “Rachel’s Cookies” are now a
“Hi, my name is Rachel, any cookies today?” she said. “Great, thank you so much
for serving my cookies. Have a beautiful day! You’re welcome!”
With her zest and ambition, Wollum personifies the remarkable strategy that has
made Vermont a leader in the civil rights movement for adults with disabilities. If she
lived in Minnesota, Wollum might have been steered into a sheltered workshop or
mobile cleaning crew, where thousands of disabled adults perform mundane tasks
and have little or no contact with the broader community.
But here, in this state of hardscrabble hillside farms and country roads lined with
sugar maples, sheltered workshops are a thing of the past. Disabled adults are
expected to take their place each day alongside other working people. In the 16
years since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered states to end the segregation of people
with disabilities, few states have carried the flag as boldly as Vermont.