Linda Quintanilha of Bennington, NH has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Virginia Bowden Advocacy Award, also known as the Advocate of the Year.

This honor is given annually in December by the Developmental Disabilities Council to a person with disabilities or family member for extraordinary leadership and commitment to the cause of dignity, equal rights and full participation of people with disabilities in New Hampshire. Linda was honored on December 8th in Concord.

Quintanilha has shown great leadership in advocating for people with disabilities. This past spring, in the face of deep budget cuts, she enlisted representatives from a number of Monadnock towns to help organize and take action locally via Town meetings and in Concord at legislative hearings and the Rally for NH.

She serves as president of the ABLE NH (Advocates Building Lasting Equality) board a grass roots, independent group that advocates for children and adults with disabilities.  She is also serving as co-chair of the Family Council of the Monadnock region.

Quintanilha speaks frankly when asked why she feels so strongly about her work. “I had a huge value change when I got thrown into the disability world. I have three children under the age of 10, and two of them experience autism. As we entered the school world, I started realizing how segregated our population is, that there are segments who are tucked away. It was only 30 years ago that there were still people in institutions in this state, in deplorable conditions.”

Quintanilha admits she’s angry that she didn’t know about how people with all sorts of disabilities were isolated and mistreated as she was growing up. She feels like she was old enough to know better. “When I learned about the conditions at Laconia State School, I thought, ‘How could I not have known about that?’ That’s the fire that burns in my belly, because we can never go back there.”

Carol Stamatakis, Executive Director of the Council on Developmental Disabilites, exclaims: “Linda’s efforts have inspired people to find the power within themselves to transform society! We’re lucky to have someone like her working diligently for the rights of people with disabilities.”

At the ceremony in Concord on December 8th, Sen. Chuck Morse of Salem and Rep. Donna Schlachman of Exeter were also presented with awards for their outstanding contributions to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. Last year Rep. Susan Emerson of Rindge was honored by the Council for her support of insurance coverage for hearing aids, and strengthening the laws against abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults.

The N.H. Council on Developmental Disabilities is a statewide independent agency that promotes greater opportunities and community inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of life. The Council has 16 members, appointed by the governor, who include people with developmental disabilities, family members and representatives of many agencies who support people with disabilities.